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Durham University



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Publication details

Reynolds, J. P., Vasiljevic, M., Pilling, M. Hall, M. G., Ribisl, K. M. & Marteau, T. M. (2020). Communicating evidence about the causes of obesity and support for obesity policies: Two population-based survey experiments. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17(18): 6539.

Author(s) from Durham


Public support for numerous obesity policies is low, which is one barrier to their implementation. One reason for this low support is the tendency to ascribe obesity to failings of willpower as opposed to the environment. Correlational evidence supports this position. However, the experimental evidence is mixed. In two experimental studies, participants were randomised to receive no message, messages about the environment’s influence on obesity (Study 1 & 2), or messages about the environment’s influence on human behaviour (Study 1). We investigated whether communicating these messages changed support for obesity policies and beliefs about the causes of obesity. Participants were recruited from nationally representative samples in Great Britain (Study 1 & 2) and the USA (Study 2) (total n = 4391). Study 2 was designed to replicate existing research. Neither study found evidence that communicating the messages increased support for obesity policies or strengthened beliefs about the environment’s role in obesity. Study 2, therefore, did not replicate two earlier experimental studies. Instead, the studies reported here suggest that people’s beliefs about the causes of obesity are resistant to change in response to evidence and are, therefore, not a promising avenue to increase support for obesity policies.