Who Is To Blame For Obesity?

A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked people what they thought were major vs minor causes for obesity.  You can find all the issues listed here (see question 3).  The two major reasons were:

People spend too much time in front of TV, video game and computer screens


Fast food is inexpensive and easy to find

82% thought the first issue related to TV was a major reason and only 14% thought it minor.  75% thought inexpensive, available fast food a major issue, 17% thought it minor.

Some discussion over at suggests that these findings indicate people perceive “technology” as the most blameworthy category.  But, I think the fact that fast-food availability is the 2nd leading cause casts some doubt on this interpretation.

A more direct way to get at the issue of whether people perceive the problem to be one of personal responsibility, nefarious actions of “Big Food,” or the “food environment” is to directly ask.  That’s exactly what we did in the same survey I discussed in my last blog post.  I’m not going into the details much now because they are the centerpiece of a paper we currently have in review, but I will reveal some juicy nuggets.

We asked people to indicate for each of seven entities, whether they thought each entity was primarily, somewhat, or not to blame for the rise in obesity.  Here are the results with the % ascribing primary blame in parentheses.

Individuals (80%)

Parents (59%)

Food manufacturers (35%)

Restaurants (20%)

Government policies (18%)

Grocery stores (10%)

Farmers (4%)

It is remarkable that 80% say individuals are primarily to blame for obesity when one notes that over 69% of adults in the US are overweight or obese according to the CDC. It is comforting to see that people haven’t completely abrogated personal responsibility.