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Take a look at the cover of any lifestyle magazine and you’d think that all Americans want to do is lose weight and get toned. But new survey results find the percentage of American adults on a diet has fallen dramatically, particularly among women. The survey also suggests that fewer Americans view being overweight as unattractive.

What’s the Deal?

About 20 percent of 3,800 surveyed adults report being on a diet, down from a peak of 31 percent in 1991 — and women are at the forefront of this shift. According to consumer research group NPD’s National Eating Trends food and beverage market research, the percentage of women on a diet dropped from 34 percent in 1992 to just 23 percent in 2012. (Still, New Year’s diets remain a cultural tradition across genders. NPD estimates that during the first two weeks of January, the number of Americans on a diet jumps to 50 million.)

The survey also found that fewer Americans agree with the statement, “People who are not overweight look a lot more attractive.” In 1985, 55 percent of surveyed Americans agreed. In 2012? Fewer than one in four Americans held the belief that people who aren’t overweight are more attractive than their heavier counterparts — representing a notable attitude shift over the past few decades.

Why It Matters

NPD interprets this data as evidence that people are giving up on diets more quickly than in the past. In 2012, only 27 percent of all dieters stuck with their diets for more than one year; the rest either stopped dieting during the year or stopped identifying as dieters.

But a lot of it might come down to changing cultural attitudes about being overweight — and about what “dieting” means in the first place. Being overweight might not be the death knell it was once thought to be, and according to this survey, public opinion about weight and attraction is changing at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, it’s possible that people are starting to think in terms of “lifestyles,” not “diets.” While people might still watch what they eat and focus on making healthier choices, they might not be defining these choices as a “diet” — providing a possible explanation for why more than half of Americans reported trying to lose weight in 2012, even as the percentage of Americans who reported being on a diet decreased.

Given the difficulties involved in determining how many Americans are actively dieting, perhaps the most notable takeaway from the survey is this: American attitudes about what constitutes an “attractive” body are expanding. And that’s something from which we all could benefit.

Do you believe “diets” are going extinct? Share in comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @LauraNewc.