According to a new study, politics (and your waistline) affect how you view our nation’s obesity problem. Republicans and slimmer Democrats seem to agree that it’s an issue of personal responsibility, while overweight Democrats seem to believe that genetics play a larger role. That, in turn, shapes how they think America should best address the problem.
As it turns out, your answer may have a good deal to do with your political leanings, as well as your own waistline.
A study by researchers at the University of Kansas found that Republicans (regardless of body mass) unilaterally agree that obesity is the result of personal choices — eating, lifestyle habits, etc. But Democrats were more split. While slimmer Dems tended to agree with their Republican counterparts, Democrats who identify as overweight laid more of the blame on genetic factors.
“Self-reported overweight people were significantly more likely to believe obesity is caused by genetics than normal weight people,” said Mark Joslyn, professor of political science. “The belief that obesity is due to genetics tends to remove blame. Obesity is not a choice, some would argue, but rather people are simply genetically wired to be obese. In this way, overweight people are motivated to believe in the genetics-obesity link. We found normal weight people were not so motivated.”
It’s worth stopping to note that there’s a divide exists at all is a deeply comical thing, at least to me. On the one hand, of course what you stuff in your piehole impacts your waistline. But on the other hand, you can’t look around at a country like America — a large, incredibly diverse one — and not conclude that if we’re all eating the same crap, something else is likely at play here, too. Only in 2017 could something as simple as body fat become a political football.
But to the researchers, these differences could amount to policy decisions. The U.S. spends an inordinate amount of money caring for the overweight and obese every year, so curtailing the problem is (theoretically) a bipartisan issue. The problem is, though, is that how you view obesity affects how you think we should combat it. If you’re team #PersonalResponsibility (and particularly a Republican), you likely view government initiatives (like the soda tax imposed by multiple cities) as unnecessary government overreach.
Those more inclined to point the finger at genetics, however, have a different concern.
“To the extent that genetic attributions increase in popularity, stronger opposition to discriminatory hiring practices by weight can be expected,” Joslyn said.
In reality, the researchers say that most public policy is neither Orwellian nor defeatist. Most initiatives to combat obesity, like building public recreational spaces and requiring the posting of calorie counts, strikes a balance — without requiring anyone to do anything, they can slowly nudge people in the direction of making better choices on their own.
The ultimate question remains, though: does any of it work?
“If obesity persists in the face of such initiatives, blame and discrimination of obese people is likely to continue,” Joslyn said. “On the other hand, if governments treat obesity similar to diseases that afflict the population, as circumstances beyond the control of individuals, then individual blame and discrimination may diminish.”
So far, the answer is no.Leave a reply →