Public Opinion and the Politics of Obesity in America
Oliver, J. Eric
Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 2005 October; 30(5): 923-954
Health policy experts have recently sounded the warning about the severe health and economic consequences of America's growing rates of obesity. Despite this fact, obesity has only begun to enter America's political consciousness and we have little information about what average Americans think of obesity or whether they support obesity-related policies. Using unique survey data collected by the authors, this essay examines public attitudes toward obesity and obesity policy. We find that, contrary to the views of health experts, most Americans are not seriously concerned with obesity, express relatively low support for obesity-targeted policies, and still view obesity as resulting from individual failure rather than environmental or genetic sources. Given the absence of elite discourse on this problem, we also find that typical determinants of policy preferences, such as ideology or partisanship, are not good predictors of attitudes on obesity policy. Rather, with a low-valence issue such as obesity, the public utilizes other attitudinal frameworks such as their opinions on smoking policy and the environmental culpability for obesity. The implications of these findings for obesity policy and research on health-related public opinion are discussed.
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