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Consumer Confidential: Vacations in peril, Verizon data caps, obesity crisis solved

July 5, 2011 | 10:05 am

Vacapic Here's your caught-in-a-trap Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Or not. A new survey finds that 45% of company workers and self-employed folk intend to cancel or reduce their vacation plans if the economy doesn't improve. According to the survey by Harris Interactive, younger workers are more skittish about their vacations, with 52% of adults age 18 to 34 saying they'd scotch their vacation plans if the economy worsens. That compares with 44% of people age 35 to 44, and 42% of workers age 45 to 54. Just over one-third of people age 55 or more would change or cancel their trip. One other tidbit: People in the West and South are more apt to change or cancel plans given the economy. Considering California's sky-high unemployment rate, that's not so surprising.

 --If you're a Verizon wireless customer, get ready for some new rate plans with monthly usage caps. Verizon hasn't said what its plans will look like. But because AT&T introduced capped data plans a year ago and T-Mobile USA eliminated its unlimited data plan in May, this is well-trod ground. The new Verizon plans will most likely apply only to new customers or people trading up to smart phones. They could also apply to smart-phone users buying new phones. The tricky thing about capped data plans is that few people have a clue how much data they really use, so they don't know much to sign up for. Verizon now charges $30 a month for an unlimited smart-phone data plan. If figuring out your usage is too much of a hassle, Sprint Nextel still offers unlimited data for $30 monthly.

--From the Sounds About Right file: A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina finds that a key reason for the obesity epidemic may be that we're eating a lot more. "First, the food industry started 'super sizing' our portions, then snacking occasions increased and we were convinced we needed to drink constantly to be hydrated," said Barry Popkin, the study's senior author. Despite the "duh" factor here, the study is apparently the first to examine the combined contribution of changes in three key factors: portion sizes, food energy density and eating frequency. It found that the average daily total energy intake, measured in calories, increased from about 1,803 in 1977–78 to 2,374 in 2003–06, an increase of 570. Increases in the number of eating occasions and portion sizes of foods and beverages over the last 30 years accounted for most of the increase. The solution? Eat less. You heard it here first.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: There may be less of this sort of thing if the economy worsens. Credit: Amanda Jones