Obesity, Opioids, and Guns Rank as the Top Health Threats

Fear“Of the following what do you think is the number one threat to American public health at this moment?” Given a list that included guns, alcohol, cancer, COVID, obesity, opioids, smoking, driving, or something else, three top choices were clear. Opioids (chosen by 26%), obesity (23%), and guns (20%) outpaced everything else. The others were not very close. Cancer came in at 11% and all the others were similar to COVID, which only two percent chose.

These numbers come from three waves of a survey this year by Ipsos and Axios. The latest was last week. Earlier waves were in May and February.

COVID Concern Fading

This survey data suggests, as other data does, that concerns about COVID are fading. Half of Americans say that the pandemic is over. This number was down a bit from 62% in May, but about the same as 47% expressing this sentiment in February.

Partisan Differences

It’s also worth noting (and perhaps not surprising) that partisan differences are obvious in the views of these three issues. Democrats are more focused on guns. Republicans worry more about opioids and obesity.

We also note that despite a lot sensational reporting about off-label use of new obesity medicines, it simply does not get much traction with the public. Most people had not heard much about this as an issue and only 20% care a lot about it.

The Gap Between Concern and Effective Policy

We note that all three of the top issues in this survey are issues where public policy keeps failing. Opioid overdose deaths, obesity prevalence, and gun violence have all risen and remain high – despite great public concern.

Polarization and an active gun lobby might explain the failures on gun violence. But the failure on opioids and obesity seems different. On both of these issues, we see a default to simplistic answers. Just say no to drugs. Eat less and move more to overcome obesity. Neither mantra has done much for public health.

Maybe it’s time to embrace the discomfort of fresh thinking on these persistent problems and take the risk of making different mistakes on the way to finding real solutions.

Click here, here, and here for perspective on the Axios-Ipsos polling, and here for the data.

Fear, painting by Maria Yakunchikova / Wikimedia Commons

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August 20, 2023

2 Responses to “Obesity, Opioids, and Guns Rank as the Top Health Threats”

  1. August 20, 2023 at 8:50 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    I guess the wisdom of the crowd notion has limits?

    Especially when misperceptions are so widespread (see https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/ctp-newsroom/ctp-director-discusses-opportunities-and-considerations-addressing-misperceptions-about-relative)?


    My employer, PinneyAssociates, Inc., provides consulting services on tobacco harm minimization for JUUL Labs, Inc., on an exclusive basis. I also own an interest in a novel nicotine gum that has not been developed nor commercialized.

    • August 20, 2023 at 10:02 am, Ted said:

      Indeed. Public views of the relative harm of vaping are a little wacky, arguably because poor messaging from public health. Still, I take heart from knowing that 88% of adults steer clear of smoking.