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Obesity: US, UK attitudes differ

07-Jul-2004

Obesity levels in the US and Britain are among the highest in the world, and it is not surprising, therefore, that it is in these two countries that the debate over how to tackle the problem - and who is to blame - is the most advanced. But a recent survey suggests that attitudes in the two countries are markedly different.

Over half the UK population is currently either overweight or obese - 70 per cent of men and 63 per cent of women, according to statistics from 2002 - and obesity in two- to four-year-old children almost doubled from 5 per cent to 9 per cent from 1989-1998. In the US, meanwhile, no state except Colorado has an obesity rate lower than 15 per cent, although in 1991 none of the 50 states had a rate higher than 14 per cent.

Yet if both nations have serious obesity problems - indeed, the word epidemic is becoming increasingly widely used on both sides of the Atlantic - attitudes to obesity differ wildly.

A global study conducted by Universal McCann last week reveals that while US adults will accept personal responsibility for the obesity epidemic, their British counterparts share blame with food manufacturers. The study was carried out in 10 major markets worldwide, and data from the other eight nations will be released at a later date.

The study revealed that 83 per cent of American adults think it is the responsibility of individuals to get obesity under control, while 68 per cent of Americans believe that lack of exercise is the main cause of obesity, compared to just 32 per cent who blame it on eating too much at 32%.

But a distinct difference was found regarding how Americans and the British view food companies and government agencies' responsibility in the obesity epidemic. In the US, 26 per cent said they blamed food companies for obesity problems, as compared to 42 per cent in the UK. In addition, when asked whether or not the government and health authorities were to blame for the problem, 22 per cent of the US said yes, compared to 39 per cent in the UK.

Given Universal McCann's advertising background (it is part of the McCann-Erickson group of advertising agencies), the survey also sought to assess consumers' attitudes to advertising and obesity, and discovered that 65 per cent of American respondents believed that advertisers were not to blame for obesity, are far more convincing figure than the 50 per cent seen in the UK.

The study also found that the majority of US adults (60 per cent) generally look for the nutritional labelling on food packs, and use the information to help them decide what to buy - despite repeated questions over the value of such information in helping food choices. Furthermore, fat, sugar, salt and vitamin and mineral content were rated as the most important information to know - perhaps a somewhat unexpected revelation in today's anti-carbohydrate age.

Belying the rising tide of childhood obesity, both American and British parents told Universal McCann that they were concerned about what their children were eating - indeed, 84 per cent of American and 88 per cent of British parents said they liked to know what their children were eating, and that they would take action to control their kids' diets if they did not approve.

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