The U.S. Fact File

American Opinions on Obesity

The increased prevalence of obesity in the United States is an area of heightened public concern, and the questions of who or what is responsible and how can (and should) the government, employers, businesses, and non-profit organizations help are a frequent feature of public debate.

Americans hold individuals responsible for the problem of adult obesity, but feel that parents are largely responsible for childhood obesity. Food manufacturers and fast-food outlets are generally not held accountable in either case.

While Americans say individuals are personally responsible for being overweight, most are open to a number of initiatives to help people gain control over their weight. The public is evenly divided on whether obesity is fundamentally `a private issue people need to deal with on their own' (52%) or `a public issue that society needs to help solve' (47%).

The majority of Americans appear to have a good idea of what comprises a healthy diet. They are also at least somewhat aware of the health risks of obesity. Three in ten Americans (31%) talk about obesity and related issues once a week or more with their friends, family, and colleagues. Many people have clear motivations to lose weight, including health benefits and increased mobility. Despite this, many Americans are unable to keep their weight in check. Part of it may be the difficulty of facing this problem alone; Americans say they would like greater information and guidance in their quest for a healthy weight.

The wide majority of people would trust information and guidance on nutrition from a broad range of sources. Health care professionals are perceived as the most credible sources of information on food and nutrition; fast food companies are the least credible source.

At the wider, social level, there is room for government, employers, businesses, and non-profits to get involved. With childhood obesity in particular, Americans feel that parents' efforts need to be supplemented by those of schools, whether through requiring physical education or banning soft drinks from school cafeteria vending machines. Three in five Americans also believe that children's television needs to show more responsibility by limiting television ads for unhealthy foods aimed at children.

McDonalds has announced that it is phasing out its trademark super-size fries and drinks as part of an effort to simplify its menu and give customers choices that support a balanced lifestyle, but this may not be the type of solution the public wants. While help and guidance are welcomed, what Americans don't necessarily want is for someone to make their dietary decisions for them, such as by limiting portion size or imposing `sin taxes' on fattening or high carbohydrate foods.

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