Why do the public support or oppose obesity prevention regulations? Results from a South Australian population survey
Issue addressed: Australian policymakers have acknowledged that implementing obesity prevention regulations is likely to be facilitated or hindered by public opinion. Accordingly, we investigated public views about possible regulations. Methods: Cross-sectional survey of 2732 persons, designed to be representative of South Australians aged 15 years and over. Questions examined views about four obesity prevention regulations (mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling for packaged foods; zoning restrictions to prohibit fast food outlets near schools; taxes on unhealthy high fat foods; and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages). Levels of support (Likert scale) for each intervention and reasons for support/opposition were ascertained. Results: Views about the regulations were mixed: support was highest for mandatory nutrition labelling (90%) and lowest for taxes (40%-42%). High levels of support for labelling were generally underpinned by a belief that this regulation would educate "Other" people about nutrition. Lower levels of support for zoning restrictions and taxes were associated with concerns about government overreach and the questionable effectiveness of these regulations in changing behaviours. Levels of support for each regulation, and reasons for support or opposition, differed by gender and socioeconomic status. Conclusions: Sociodemographic differences in support appeared to reflect gendered responsibilities for food provision and concerns about the material constraints of socioeconomic deprivation. Engagement with target populations may offer insights to optimise the acceptability of regulations and minimise unintended social consequences. So what?: Resistance to regulations amongst socioeconomically disadvantaged target populations warrants attention from public health advocates. Failure to accommodate concerns identified may further marginalise these groups.