Poll: Fight obesity crisis but keep the junk food

Everyone could use a little help keeping those New Year's resolutions to slim down. But if it means the government limiting junk food, the response is an overwhelming, "No."
Associated Press
Jan 4, 2013


Americans call obesity a national health crisis and blame too much screen time and cheap fast food for fueling it. But a new poll finds people are split on how much the government should do to help — and most draw the line at attempts to force healthier eating.

A third of people say the government should be deeply involved in finding solutions to the epidemic. A similar proportion want it to play little or no role, and the rest are somewhere in the middle, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Require more physical activity in school, or provide nutritional guidelines to help people make better choices? Sure, 8 in 10 support those steps. Make restaurants post calorie counts on their menus, as the Food and Drug Administration is poised to do? Some 70 percent think it's a good idea.

"That's a start," said Khadijah Al-Amin, 52, of Coatesville, Pa. "The fat content should be put up there in red letters, not just put up there. The same way they mark something that's poisonous, so when you see it, you absolutely know."

But nearly 6 in 10 people surveyed oppose taxes targeting unhealthy foods, known as soda taxes or fat taxes.

And when it comes to restricting what people can buy — like New York City's recent ban of supersized sodas in restaurants — three-quarters say, "No way."

"The outlawing of sugary drinks, that's just silly," said Keith Donner, 52, of Miami, who prefers teaching schoolchildren to eat better and get moving.

"People should just look at a Big Gulp and say, 'That's not for me.' I think it starts when they are young and at school," he added.

Despite the severity of the problem, most of those surveyed say dealing with obesity is up to individuals. Just a third consider obesity a community problem that governments, schools, health care providers and the food industry should be involved in. Twelve percent said it will take work from both individuals and the community.

That finding highlights the dilemma facing public health experts: Societal changes in recent decades have helped spur growing waistlines, and now a third of U.S. children and teens and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Today, restaurants dot more street corners and malls, regular-sized portions are larger, and a fast-food meal can be cheaper than healthier fare. Not to mention electronic distractions that slightly more people surveyed blamed for obesity than fast food.

In the current environment, it's difficult to exercise that personal responsibility, said Jeff Levi of the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, which has closely tracked the rise in obesity.

"We need to create environments where the healthy choice becomes the easy choice, where it's possible for people to bear that responsibility," he said.

The new poll suggests women, who have major input on what a family eats, recognize those societal and community difficulties more than men do.

More than half of women say the high cost of healthy food is a major driver of obesity, compared with just 37 percent of men. Women also are more likely than men to blame cheap fast food and to say that the food industry should bear a lot of responsibility for helping to find solutions.

Patricia Wilson, 53, of rural Speedwell, Tenn., says she must drive 45 minutes to reach a grocery store — passing numerous burger and pizza joints, with more arriving every year.

"They shouldn't be letting all these fast-food places go up," said Wilson, who nags her children and grandchildren to eat at home and watch their calories. She recalls how her own overweight grandmother lost both her legs and then her life to diabetes.

More than 80 percent of people in the AP-NORC poll said they had easy access to supermarkets, but just as many could easily get fast food. Another 68 percent said it was easy for kids to purchase junk food on their way to school, potentially foiling diet-conscious caregivers like Wilson, who doesn't allow her grandchildren to eat unhealthy snacks at home.

"If they say they're hungry, they get regular food," she said.

Food is only part of the obesity equation; physical activity is key too. About 7 in 10 people said it was easy to find sidewalks or paths for jogging, walking or bike-riding. But 63 percent found it difficult to run errands or get around without a car, reinforcing a sedentary lifestyle.

James Gambrell, 27, of Springfield, Ore., said he pays particular attention to diet and exercise because obesity runs in his family. He makes a point of walking to stores and running errands on foot two to three times a week.

But Gambrell, a fast-food cashier, said he eats out at least once a day because of the convenience and has changed his order at restaurants that already have begun posting calorie counts. He's all for the government pushing those kinds of solutions.

"I feel that it's a part of the government's responsibility to care for its citizens and as such should attempt to set regulations for restaurants that are potentially harmful to its citizens," he said.

On the other side is Pamela Dupuis, 60, of Aurora, Colo., who said she has struggled with weight and has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. She doesn't want the government involved in things like calorie-counting.

"They should stay out of our lives," she said.

The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Nov. 21 through Dec. 14. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,011 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.




when are people going to take responsibility for their actions... we are grown adults, or grown adults that influence children... we don't need the government to take away unhealthy food, adults and parents need to take responsibility and quit making fast food an every night thing if their bodies cant handle it...

i was blessed with an extremely high metabolism... now how is it fair for people like me if you go around and outlaw fast food? people like me would be punished because the fatties of this nation have no self control and can't say to themselves, "maybe i should put down the doughnuts and pick up a granola bar."

by having the government step in, all we'd be doing is allowing them to be in charge of what we'd be allowed to eat... it's bad enough they are trying to say how we can protect ourselves and what secrets we can or cannot keep, but i'll be damned if im going to let them say what i can and cannot eat just because a bunch of hippo's can't handle the fact that they are fat because they'd rather sit on the couch than burn weight or eat a cheese burger rather than a salad...

yes, im slim, but i also enjoy healthy foods as well. i cook with whole foods and as much organic as i can get in this area... i use real butter and vegetables that didnt come from a can. i prefer raisin bran over capt'n crunch, and i'm really not big on sweets...

im just finding it hard to believe that fat people can blame society because of their weight problem, but when it comes to dropping a few pounds they say they did it on their own... with a diet prescribed by the very same society that they blamed for being fat in the first place...

and whats worse, the government condones being overweight by allowing it to fall under the list of disabilities... you can literally eat your way into the government assistance program...

it's ok to have a few extra pounds, god knows i'd like a few... but to let yourself go to the point where you have to turn sideways to sit in a restaurant booth... that's a bit too far...

instead of asking the government to punish the whole population because some people have a self control problem, why not ask the government to have weight and b.m.i. limits for people to eat fast food... "oh, sorry, you're 5ft tall and 300lbs... you're too fat for your own good so i cannnot allow you to eat another 3 McDoubles."

if bartenders arent allowed to over serve people because they are too drunk, it should be the same for people at restaurants to have the same responsibility to not serve fat people because it's also hazardous to their own health.

fat people should punish themselves and themselves only and not try to take those that choose to exercise to have the right to eat what ever they want down with them.