Communicating Evidence about the Causes of Obesity and Support for Obesity Policies: Two Population-Based Survey Experiments

James P. Reynolds*, Milica Vasiljevic, Mark Andrew Pilling, Marissa G. Hall, Kurt M. Ribisl, Theresa M. Marteau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Article number6539
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

Funding: This report is independent research commissioned and funded by the National Institute for Health
Research Policy Research Programme (Policy Research Unit in Behaviour and Health [PR-UN-0409-10109]).
K01HL147713 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health supported
Marissa Hall’s time working on the paper. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not
necessarily those of the NHS, the National Institute for Health Research, the Department of Health and Social Care
or its arm’s length bodies, the National Institutes of Health, and other Government Departments. The funders had
no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • policy
  • acceptability
  • overweight
  • attributions
  • framing
  • communication

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