Survey: Individuals Take Responsibility For Obesity

New research published in the journal Appetite shows most people believe that individuals themselves are actually the ones responsible for their own obesity, not fast food restaurants or government policies.

January 23, 2014

3 Min Read
Survey: Individuals Take Responsibility For Obesity

URBANA, Ill.U.S. consumers tend to blame fast-food restaurants and government policies for the current obesity epidemic and all of the health issues that come with it. However, new research published in the journal Appetite shows most people believe that individuals themselves are actually the ones responsible for their own obesity.

Food economists Brenna Ellison and Jayson Lusk of Oklahoma State University conducted a research survey and found most people believe individuals should take the blame for obesity before restaurants, grocery stores, farmers or government policies. One implication from this research is that creating and enforcing public policies to help reduce obesity and encourage healthier food choices may not be as effective as policymakers would like.

The online survey was administered by Clear Voice Research, whose registry of panelists is representative of the U.S. population in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, gender and region. Of the more than 800 people in the United States who took the survey, 774 were usable.

The main question of interest asked was, Who is primarily to blame for the rise in obesity?" Respondents were asked to classify seven different entities (individuals, parents, farmers, food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants and government policies) as either primarily to blame, somewhat to blame, or not to blame for obesity. Results of the study showed that 94% of people believed individuals are primarily or somewhat to blame for the rise in obesity, with parents coming in second at 91% primarily or somewhat to blame. Survey respondents felt farmers and grocery stores were relatively blameless for the rise in obesity.

Ellison said past research has shown many of the food policies designed to improve food choices, such as requiring calorie information on restaurant menus and taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, do not always produce the intended results. This leads one to question: Why arent these policies working? Why arent consumers responding to increased soda prices or calorie information on menus?

Obesity is in the news every day, so it would be hard to say that people are unaware of the policy initiatives in place to reduce U.S. obesity rates," Ellison said. Based on our study results, the more likely conclusion is that consumers beliefs about who is to blame for obesity dont necessarily align with the beliefs of policymakers and public health advocates. In the United States, were known for being an individualistic-based society, so its not exceptionally surprising that we would put this responsibility for obesity on ourselves.

Ellison said that one finding from the survey was unexpected.

We learned that farmers and people who received food stamps were more likely to blame government and farm policy," Ellison said. That seems off. You wouldnt expect that opinion from people who are benefiting from those policies; however, these individuals could be in the best position to observe the potential harm that some government policies create."

While obesity rates leveled off in 2013 for the first time in 30 years, America's obesity epidemic has remained the greatest public health concern during the past year. For more information on how food, beverage and restaurant industries can help Americans thrive, download the journal Thinking Big: Chipping Away at Obesity.

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