LGBT Trends: Who still thinks AIDS may be ‘divine punishment’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
2014 PEW report on LGBT related attitudes


In 1992, over a third of Americans (36%) said that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior. Over time, public opinion has become more supportive of gay rights and even legalized same-sex marriage. Has this trend also lessened the opinion that AIDS could be divine punishment for immorality?

The percent of Americans who now agree that AIDS is God’s punishment has dropped considerably, according to the just-released report by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). But a sizable minority—14% of all Americans—still believe that AIDS is divine punishment.

We see big drops in the “divine punishment” theory across the board. In 1992, the majority of white evangelical Protestants (51%) subscribed to this explanation of AIDS; today, the percent is 24%, according to PRRI. Similarly, 50% of black Protestants in 1992 said that AIDS was God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, but that figure has fallen to 20% today.

Only 7% of white Catholics today perceive AIDS to be divine punishment, 10% of white mainline Protestants, and 8% of the religiously unaffiliated.

We also see differences by political party affiliation. One of four Tea Partiers (24%) today subscribe to the theory of divine punishment. About two of ten Republicans (19%) agree. Support for the idea that God uses AIDS to punish immoral sexual behavior is the lowest for Democrats (13%) and Independents (14%).

Do you agree or disagree that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior?

What explains the trend towards fewer and fewer Americans believing that AIDS is divine punishment?

United America, Core Value 3: Freedom

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series United America

Cigarette with smoke photo by Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin via Wikimedia Commons

I grew up in a cloud of second-hand smoke. People smoked everywhere. It was a time when not smoking was abnormal. Now, smoking is banned in many public places, such as restaurants and bars. But a Michigan politician wants to repeal the ban, arguing that it infringes on our liberty.

Does this make sense to you?

The Michigan politician is State Rep. Tom McMillin, a Republican from Rochester Hills. Here is what is said, according to CAPCON-Michigan Capitol Confidential: “I am not a smoker, but to me this is an issue of liberty and property rights. That’s why I didn’t support the smoking ban legislation when it was in the House. If I was in one of these areas with my children and someone started smoking, I’d go someplace else. I believe that’s a choice we always have.”

“Liberty” is the ability to do what you want without restraint—like smoking in public places. Many Americans believe in liberty, but not enough to qualify as a core American value. Rather, “freedom” is one of the 10 core values, as I discuss in United America. Since my new book was just published Monday, we’re using this series to introduce each core value and link them to contemporary issues. United America developed from a combination of my four national surveys of Americans and years of discussing values here at

Core Value 3: “Freedom”—as summarized in the chart of values, this one means “Having the right to participate in politics and elections; expression of unpopular ideas without fearing for one’s safety.” Freedom, then, comes with responsibility.

This Michigan House bill that McMillin advocates comes 50 years after the first report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General that warned about the health hazards of smoking. Since then, we have made great strides in reducing tobacco usage in America, including bans on smoking in public places. Sustained outreach and education programs have reduced smoking. Smokers are now a dwindling minority. But there is still a long way to go. Some children and some demographic groups continue to light up. The economic costs alone are over $289 billion each year, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report published this month.

Do you see the ban on smoking in public places to be an infringement of your liberty?

Do you support or oppose the ban?

What does freedom mean to you?

Body Weight: Is obesity contagious?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Body Weight
Grocery bag of junk foods

The National Cancer Institute provides this stock photo to illustrate the problem of poor shopping in households that regularly bring too much junk food into the home. Photo now in public domain.

Body weight seems like an individual decision, doesn’t it? It’s something that’s under individual control, right?

Well, it is—and it isn’t. Our body weight is influenced by those around us. Could it be that body weight is contagious?

Americans are gaining weight, on average, though the desire to do something about it has not changed much over time. As we’ve discussed this week, the majority of Americans are concerned about body weight, some occupations are more susceptible to obesity than others, avoiding the dentist is a predictor of obesity, and healthy eating habits have declined during the course of 2013.

Body weight is contagious, argue researchers Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. But a biological virus is not the agent; a social virus is the cause of contagion. We are influenced by those around us—members of our social network who influence our values and norms about appropriate body weight. This research was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Using data collected over three decades in Massachusetts, the researchers documented some startling facts. Here are a few:

  • Your risk of becoming obese increases by 171% if a close friend becomes obese. This effect is much stronger for men than for women.
  • If your brother or sister becomes obese, your risk increases by 40%.
  • If one spouse becomes obese, the other spouse is 37% more likely to become obese as well.

Now, all this works in reverse as well. If your close friend, or sibling, or spouse achieves ideal weight, your changes of doing the same are much greater, too.

Are you surprised by the social influences on body weight?

Is your body weight considerably different from the body weights of your close friends, your siblings, or your spouse?

Body Weight: Are eating habits getting better or worse?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Body Weight
CLICK on this chart of Gallup results to visit Gallup's website and read the whole report.

CLICK on this chart of Gallup results to visit Gallup’s website and read the whole report.

QUICK: Did you eat healthy all day yesterday?

Got your answer? Then read on …

If you did eat healthy yesterday, your chances of being overweight are lower than if you said no. Not eating healthy is a major factor linked to obesity, as we discussed in Part 3 of this week’s series. So, trends in eating habits are important to consider.

Is that trend up or down this year? Our eating habits have worsened over the course of this year compared with 2012, according to Gallup. This year, Americans are also eating fewer servings of fruits and vegetables per week, compared to last year.

Fast food is still popular among Americans, says Gallup. About 80% of Americans eat at fast-food restaurants at least once a month. About 20% eat there several times a week or every day.

What percent of American say they never eat at fast-food restaurants? Only 4%. At the same time, three of four Americans (76%) say that fast food is “not too good” or “not good at all for you.” Only 2% say is it “very good” for you. Among different age groups, young Americans (ages 18–29) eat fast food more frequently than any other age group. As people age, they are less likely to eat fast food.

Fast food is cheap—but Americans with the lowest incomes are the least likely to buy fast food. Americans with annual incomes of $75,000 or more are actually more likely to eat fast food, compared to Americans in the lowest income group.

Have your eating habits improved or worsened this year?

Are you are a habitué of fast-food restaurants?

What is your prescription for healthy eating?

Body Weight: “Say ahhh!” (a dentist may help your waistline)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Body Weight
U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ruby Zarzyczny, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

The average American is 15 pounds heavier now, compared to the average American in 1990. One implication is that more Americans are now considered overweight or obese than ever before.

What are the predictors of obesity?

Gallup collects data on 26 behavioral and emotional factors that are correlated with body weight. Here are their top eight in alphabetical order. Which would you pick as the most important predictor of body weight?

  • Access to a safe place to exercise
  • Depression diagnosis
  • Exercise
  • Having a personal doctor
  • Healthy eating
  • Smoking
  • Struggles to afford food in the past year
  • Visiting a dentist

Insufficient exercise is the #1 factor linked to obesity, according to Gallup. Insufficient exercise means exercising fewer than three days a week. Other major factors are not being able to afford food, not eating healthy, lacking a safe place to exercise, a history of depression—and, yes, not going to the dentist every year.

Not smoking is also a predictor of obesity—but this is not a prescription to take up or keep the habit. Gallup notes that nicotine is a well-known appetite suppressant, which is one reason many smokers who break the habit tend to gain weight. In a rather droll statement, Gallup analysts say, “Still, the negative health effects from smoking arguably outweigh any healthy weight benefits.”

Are you surprised to learn that avoiding the dentist is linked to obesity?

Which of the eight factors is the easiest for you—or the hardest?

Body Weight: Which occupation will make you fattest?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Body Weight

STUCK IN A CUBICLE ALL DAY? Gallup’s latest report on health and well-being suggests that such a career may strain your waistline.

Obesity rates in the U.S. are near an all-time high. But obesity is not a democratic condition. It is not shared equally. Different groups have higher rates than others. The same is true for occupation. Obesity is more prevalent in some occupations than in others.

Today, we’ll look at national data on which occupation is the worst from a body-weight point of view—and, we’ll look at which is the best.

Out of 14 different occupations, transportation workers have the highest rates of obesity, according to Gallup’s health and well-being figures for 2012. More than one third (36.4%) of workers in this occupation are obese. This is closely followed by workers in manufacturing or production (29.9%), installation or repair (28.3%), clerical or office (26.6%), managers, executives, or officials (25.6), and service workers (25.6%).

Which occupation has the lowest rate of obesity? Physicians. Only 14% of physicians occupation are considered obese. Other occupations with low rates of obesity include business owners (20.4%) and K-12 teachers (20.9%).

Why do physicians have the lowest rates of obesity? It’s not just medical knowledge. Nurses, for example, have considerably higher rates of obesity (25.2%) than doctors (14%). Rather, physicians are likely to have a safe place to exercise, they can afford healthy food, and they have low rates of depression.

Employers in specific industries can do something to help their employees attain and maintain a healthy body weight. “For example,” notes Gallup, “employers in the service industry—the group which struggles most with affording food and with diagnoses of depression—could develop discount programs to make healthy food more affordable for their employees and could make confidential depression screenings and resources readily available.”

Are you surprised to learn that transportation workers have the highest rate of obesity?

Or that medical doctors have the lowest rate?

Tomorrow: What are the major predictors of obesity?

Immortality: What about quality of life?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Immortality
Click on this Pew chart to visit the Pew website and read the entire 76-page report.

CLICK ON EITHER OF THESE PEW CHARTS to visit the Pew website and read the entire 76-page report.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin.

However, both can be deferred, the first by radical life-extension treatments, the second by astute financial planning. As we’ve discussed all week, advances in medicine soon may enable the average person to live to 120 and beyond. So far, we’ve consulted Pew’s new survey to consider how many Americans, personally, would want life-lengthening medical treatments, the ideal life span, whether radical life extension is a good or bad thing for society, and attitudes about the growing demographic of old people.

Today, we wrap up by considering the relationship between views on radical life extension and how optimistic people are about their lives in the future. The key question is: What’s more important to you: quality of life or a long life?

Americans who are optimistic about their lives 10 years from now are more likely to say that they, personally, would want life-lengthening medical treatments, compared to those who are pessimistic. About four of ten (42%) of Americans who think their lives will be better 10 years from now also say they would avail themselves of radical life-extension treatments. Only 28% of Americans who think their lives 10 years hence will be worse say the same.

The same pattern emerges for opinions about the effect of radical life extension on society. Forty-five percent of Americans who think their lives will be better 10 years from now also say that radical life extension would be a good thing for society. About three of ten Americans (32%) who think their lives will be worse 10 years from now say the same.

So, it appears that expectations about future quality of life are related to views about the personal use of life-lengthening medical treatments and evaluations of the effect of these treatments on society.

Do you expect your life 10 years from now to be better, worse, or about the same as now?

How do your views about your future life affect your opinions about radical life extension?

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