Americans mostly support government health agendas

March 5, 2013

A survey published in Health Affairs shows that the majority of Americans support legal interventions directed at health behavior.

Two health policy experts from Harvard University wanted to find out how the public was responding to what they called “new frontier” public health initiatives aimed at changing consumer behavior, such as New York City’s ban on super-sized sodas. Stephanie Morain and Michelle M. Mello conducted an online survey of 1,817 Americans and asked them about a variety of policy options.

Overall, 75% said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was doing a “good” or “excellent” job, and more than half gave the same ratings to their state and local public health agencies. When it came to assessing the government’s public health agenda, there was broad support for preventing cancer (89% were in favor), preventing heart disease (86%), and preventing obesity in children (81%) and adults (76%). In addition, 84% agreed that the government should help people with diabetes control their disease.

However, respondents also said that the government should not use coercive policies or punitive measures in pursuit of these goals. For instance, 84% said the government should help make fruits and vegetables more affordable and 81% liked the idea of requiring restaurants to post the calorie counts for food they serve. In schools, 89% agreed that children should be taught more about the health risks of obesity and 88% believe kids should get at least 45 min of physical education each day.

On the other hand, 62% of people were opposed to allowing health insurers to charge a $50 annual penalty to people who are obese, 68% said it would be a bad idea to “make possession of soda and other junk foods a disciplinary offense” for kids, and 48% don’t want schools to measure the body mass index of their students.

As expected, people who were overweight were less likely to support the idea of charging higher insurance premiums for people who are obese. In addition, the researchers discovered that people with diabetes were more likely than others to back government efforts designed to improve their health.