There is growing recognition among public health circles of the need for regulatory action for overweight and obesity, but there has been limited research into whether the Australian public supports government intervention. This study aimed to determine the level of public support for food-related regulations for obesity, and to assess the determinants of support.
A nationally representative sample of Australian adults (n = 2011) was recruited by market research company Online Research Unit to complete an online survey. The survey measured respondents’ perception of the obesity problem in Australia, and level of agreement on a 5-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) with proposed regulations in three food-related domains; advertising, sponsorship of children’s sport, and taxation. Pearson chi-square tests were conducted to test for differences in support between demographic groups.
The majority of respondents (92.1%) considered overweight and obesity to be a somewhat or very serious problem in Australia, and close to 90% felt there should be at least some government regulation to protect the Australian public. Over 72% of respondents agreed that government regulation should restrict unhealthy food and beverage advertising, with 81.1% supporting specific restrictions on advertising to children. There was less support for prohibiting food company sponsorship of children’s sport (63.8% agreement), and for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (57.3% agreement) and unhealthy foods (52.1% agreement). Support for fiscal policies slightly increased if the revenue was to be used for health purposes. Overall, respondents with a higher education more strongly agreed with proposed regulations (p < 0.05).
These findings suggest the majority of the Australian population recognises obesity to be a serious public health problem, and strongly support government regulation of our food advertising environment. Targeted advocacy work is needed to strengthen public support for other interventions such as taxation.