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Overweight - is it your own fault?


Severe overweight is perceived as self-inflicted
Although experts are mainly responsible for changing environmental conditions for the worldwide increase in overweight people, the general public blames the individual for being overweight. In their opinion, those affected should bear the resulting medical treatment costs themselves. This is shown in a current study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Mannheim, which was published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Almost a third of the world's population is overweight. Scientists are already talking about a global health crisis, and the World Health Organization, for example, is demanding a 20 percent sugar tax on beverages. Because experts agree that the increase in obesity, i.e. excessive obesity, is primarily due to changing environmental conditions. After all, people in industrialized countries nowadays eat far more calories than before, while at the same time they exercise less.

“We have dreamed of the land of milk and honey for centuries. A country with an abundance of food that flies into our mouths without effort. Today we live in a modern land of milk and honey - but that creates new problems, ”says Jutta Mata, professor of health psychology at the University of Mannheim and associate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research.

So far, however, social support for political measures and regulations that focus on environmental conditions has been rather low. Because most people see the blame for strong overweight primarily in the individual. This is shown by a survey of representative population samples from Germany, Great Britain and the USA. The scientists wanted to know who the respondents blamed for being overweight, who they thought should pay the treatment costs and which policies were considered effective. In order to better classify the results, the scientists also asked the same questions with regard to alcohol and tobacco addiction.

On the one hand, these diseases have some similarities to being overweight. For example, it is being discussed whether excessive obesity could also be the result of a kind of “addiction to food”. On the other hand, broad prevention and intervention measures have already been successfully carried out for them.

In all three countries, most respondents blamed individuals for obesity, as did addictions such as alcohol or tobacco addiction. In general, the higher the personal responsibility was rated, the more respondents were in favor of the fact that the individual should pay for his own treatment costs. In Germany and the UK, a good third of those surveyed agreed with this, in the USA it was almost 45 percent. The respondents' household income did not influence their statements.

Sugar tax refused
In addition, the respondents assessed the effectiveness of political measures to prevent obesity - such as high taxes, regulated availability, regulated marketing and application, as well as labeling and warnings - in comparison to the effectiveness of these measures to prevent alcohol and tobacco addiction. Overall, they rated policies and regulations against the spread of excessive obesity as less effective than those against alcohol and tobacco addiction. In addition, high taxation was seen as the least promising in the fight against obesity in all three countries, although it is considered effective in combating alcohol and tobacco addiction. From the point of view of the interviewees, the most effective measure against obesity is an understandable nutrition label on food. Such labels are primarily aimed at the food choices of the individual. Most people even consider more understandable nutrition labels to be more effective than clear warnings about the health risks on alcohol and tobacco products.

"A measure for the prevention of obesity, which is currently already receiving broad support from the public, is understandable nutritional labeling. They can strengthen people's decision-making skills and would be easy to implement, ”says Ralph Hertwig, director of the“ Adaptive Rationality ”research area at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. NIS, Max Planck Institute

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