Public perceptions of childhood obesity
Obesity has been identified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of unhealthy body weight among children and adolescents have tripled since the 1980s to 15%. Media coverage of obesity has also increased, and the public is now highly aware of obesity-related health threats facing adults and children.
RTI International sponsored a representative survey of U.S. households (n =1047) that included detailed questions about perceptions of the severity, causes, and public support for specific intervention strategies to combat childhood obesity. Logistic regressions were calculated to examine differences in support by sociodemographic characteristics.
Respondents considered childhood obesity to be as serious as other major childhood health threats, such as tobacco use and violence, but not as serious as drug abuse. They supported most school-, community-, and media-based strategies that involved offering health information, limiting unhealthy food promotion, and increasing healthy nutrition and physical activity choices, but were generally opposed to regulatory and tax- or cost-based interventions. Logistic regressions revealed significantly greater support for some interventions among highly educated individuals and women, and lower support among parents with children at home.
This study demonstrates that there is strong public support for interventions aimed at reducing overweight and obesity among children and adolescents. It also shows specific school, community, and media interventions that the public supports and opposes, and what consequences the public will accept in combating childhood obesity. These findings can help policymakers and public health professionals design and implement appropriate interventions.