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Survey: Consumers Support Government Action For Healthful Eating

BOSTON — Consumers don’t mind  — in fact, they are supportive of  — most government actions aimed at convincing them to lead a healthier lifestyle, a survey conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health shows.

But their support wanes if they perceive the government’s actions as being intrusive or coercive, researchers stated in a news release earlier this month.

Significantly, the study found that support was higher for government efforts that help people make their own healthful choices such as menu labeling requirements, such as listing calorie counts for menu items.

Researchers, however, that respondents were not supportive of intervention that penalizes consumers for unhealthy practices or for being obese.

The study was related to finding ways to tame health care costs, and researchers indicated the results were heartening because they could mean people are willing to take preventive measures to stave off chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

“Policymakers everywhere are looking for ways to use legal and policy levers to stem the rising tide of health care costs related to obesity and chronic disease,” Stephanie Morain, a doctoral candidate in health policy at Harvard University, who led the study, said in a statement when the study’s findings were released.

Health departments and legislative bodies have adopted policies such as banning trans fats in restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, and screening schoolchildren for high body mass index.

SN Infographic: Consumers Oppose Limits on Soda Size

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on super-sized sodas is one example that has received much attention in the media and spurred criticism from various groups who say such action exceeds government authority.

It was in the wake of all the new laws and advisories that researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health polled 1,817 people online.

While the survey was conducted in October 2011, analyses of the results have just been released. The article, explaining the study, and co-authored by Morain, and Michelle Mello, professor of law and public health in Harvard’s HSPH Department of Health Policy and Management, has been published in the March issue of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal on the intersection of health, health care, and policy.

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