New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Obesity and Measures Designed to Reduce it (#93)
Respondents to an on-line survey of 1021 New Zealanders considered ‘individual factors’, specifically, not enough exercise and eating too much, the main contributors to overweight and obesity. They assigned primary responsibility for addressing overweight and obesity to overweight people themselves and the parents of obese children. Not surprisingly, strongest support among 15 potential measures to reduce overweight and obesity was for encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health through more exercise and better diet.
However, although respondents supported greater personal responsibility, they saw it as much less effective in reducing obesity than several environmental interventions:‘Removing GST on fresh fruit and vegetables to reduce their price’, ‘Making public facilities for physical activity free for locals to use’, ‘Removing food high in fat or sugar from school tuck shops, workplace cafeterias and vending machines, and hospitals’ and ‘Increasing the amount of sport and physical activity within school time’. Public education campaigns were also considered more effective than simplyencouraging people to take responsibility for their own health, but less so than environmental interventions.
Clearly there is a difference between what members of the public say they support and what they think will be effective. We argue it is the latter that should influence policy makers. Although our respondents saw individuals as responsible for their own body-weight, they recognised the difficulty of losing weight in an environment that fosters weight-gain. Our findings suggest that the New Zealand public support and see as effective an integrated approach that enables people to buy healthier food, decreases the availability of nutrient-poor foods and provides opportunities for exercise, in addition to measures that teach them how to eat healthily. In this respect, public opinion is leading public policy and the political will to address overweight and obesity.