Public Opinion and the Politics of America's Obesity Epidemic
40 Pages Posted: 29 May 2002
Date Written: May 2002
Recently, health policy experts have sounded the warning about the severe health and economic consequences of America's growing obesity epidemic. Despite this fact, obesity has not yet entered America's political consciousness and we have little information about what average Americans think of obesity or whether they support obesity related policies. The nascence of the obesity epidemic presents an interesting opportunity to examine public opinion at the beginning of an issue's evolution. Using unique survey data collected by the authors, this paper presents the first examination of public attitudes towards 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 like obesity, the public relies on prior awareness, policy heuristics, and causal explanations to inform their opinions. The implications of these findings for obesity policy and research on public opinion are discussed.
Keywords: Political Science, Press and Public Policy, Welfare/Health Care/Social Policy
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