Obesity levels in the United States are at an all-time high. Being obese increases the risk for a host of diseases, such as cancer, osteoarthritis, depression, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Since the year 2000, there has been increased interest in policy-level approaches aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic. Despite the increased use of policy approaches to reduce the obesity epidemic, the support of state legislators towards evidence-based obesity reduction measures is unknown.
Seventeen hypothetical obesity reduction measures were gleaned from the literature and sent via a valid and reliable survey questionnaire to a random sample of 800 state legislators from all 50 United States. Legislators were asked to rate their level of support for each of the 17 hypothetical measures, rate how impactful each measure could be at reducing their state’s obesity level, and identify potential benefits and barriers to the measures.
There were 250 questionnaires returned for a 32% response rate. Respondents were approximately evenly split between Republicans (n = 117) and Democrats (n = 122) and were primarily White (79%), male (78%), and overweight or obese (43% and 22% respectively). Overall, public school and community-based measures were supported at approximately the same levels. Taxation-related measures were not well supported. Democrats, females, and non-White legislators were significantly more supportive of the measures when compared to Republicans, males, and White legislators, respectively. Linear regression revealed that political affiliation, perceived proper role of government, and perceiving obesity as a serious societal problem were significant predictors of legislator support. Legislator BMI, level of education, and geographic region were not significant predictors of support. The most common perceived benefit of passing the legislative measures was “improved health”. The most common perceived barrier was “not the role of government”.
Public health advocates interested in promoting obesity prevention legislation at the state level are most likely to find support for their interests among non-White female Democratic legislators regardless of BMI who perceive obesity to be a serious societal problem. Convincing legislators that obesity prevention efforts are under the government’s purview may lead to more successful advocacy.