Preaching Water and Drinking Wine

Beliefs, Science, and the Politics of Obesity

It’s happening everywhere else. Can we hope to avoid a mash-up of beliefs and science in the politics of obesity? A new publication in American Politics Research says no. A quick look at reporting on this research is even more discouraging. Science Daily tells us:

Obese Democrats Blame Genetics
Normal Weight Democrats and Most Republicans Blame Lifestyle

For the polling data behind these lovely observations, we can thank two professors of political science from the University of Kansas. In the summer of 2013, they ran an online poll of 1,596 U.S. adults. They collected self-reported weight, political affiliation, and beliefs about obesity and policies to address it.

They found that an overwhelming majority (86%) of Americans attribute obesity to eating and lifestyle habits. Few recognize the importance of genetic factors in their survey. Science Daily would have you believe that it’s only “obese Democrats” who do.

A More Enlightened Approach

Fortunately the researchers see the problem. They call for “more refined measures of attributions.” And, in fact, our own research makes it clear that the public understands obesity as having many causes. Personal choices, medical factors, and the communities we live in all play a role. And the public recognizes this fact.

This new research does provide a useful reminder. Crude, simplistic descriptions of obesity get in the way of sound strategies. We can’t hope to have good solutions if we skip past finding a complete understanding of the problem.

Click here for the study and here for the report from Science Daily. And if you wonder how politics influence medical care, read this story in the Atlantic. 

Preaching Water and Drinking Wine, photograph © [-ChristiaN-] / flickr

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March 7, 2017