Public Opinion and Obesity

What's New:

Who Should Fight Obesity?

As personal trainers, you know how important it is for obese adults and children to lose weight. But is the general public aware of the importance of this issue? Yes, for the most part.

A poll by The Harvard Forums on Health examined the opinions of 1,002 Americans 18 and older. Their findings?

Nearly eight in 10 (79%) Americans consider obesity among adults to be a major health problem. Most people (81%) also believe the government should play a role in helping with the problem, but only a third (35%) believe it should be a major role. Two in 10 (18%) believe the government should not play any role. Six in 10 support requiring restaurants to list nutrition information on their menus. By comparison, less than half (41%) support putting a special tax on junk food. Three-quarters of the public (74%) believe healthcare providers should play a major role in fighting the obesity epidemic.

When people were asked about children’s obesity, three-quarters (74%) said that they believe it is a major problem and welcome more government involvement. Most (65%) feel schools have a major role to play in fighting childhood obesity. Large majorities support healthier school lunches (84%), more physical education (76%), and efforts to educate students and parents about the health risks of obesity and the importance of exercising and eating healthfully (74%). Three-quarters say they would support measures like these even if it meant an increase in their taxes. There is less support—though still some—for “limiting TV advertisements for unhealthy foods and drinks—like soda, chips and candy—that are targeted at children” (58%) and prohibiting the sale of unhealthy foods in school vending machines (59%).

Thumbs Down on Obesity Lawsuits

Another report, “Public Balks at Obesity Lawsuits” by The Gallup Organization, also looked at what role individuals, communities, government and the food industry should play in reducing obesity.

The poll addressed lawsuits against certain restaurants or food and beverage companies. Gallup found that most people believe the food industry is not primarily responsible for the health problems faced by obese people—with 41 percent of respondents saying the industry is “not responsible at all.”

The report pointed out that figures on obesity litigation were even more pronounced. Nearly 9 in 10 respondents (89%) oppose holding the industry legally responsible for the health problems of consumers who choose to eat at quick-service restaurants on a regular basis. Personal weight had no effect on the results; respondents who described themselves as overweight agreed, and were no more likely to blame the industry for obesity-related health problems or to favor lawsuits against the industry.

The survey also noted that many quick-service restaurants have added a wider variety of menu options, including more ready-made salads, fruit and vegetable offerings, and yogurts. The success of these products will depend on shifting consumer demand for more “healthier-for-you” foods—and not on the threat of litigation.

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April Durrett

IDEA Author/Presenter
April Durrett is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.
October 2003

© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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