Education, not command

Europeans do welcome their governments and public institutions’ efforts to spread a deeper understanding of healthy eating, by educational policies at school and better labelling of food prodcts. At the same time, though, they are not going to accept any further intrusion into what is considered a citizen’s own sphere.

Funded by the European Commission, the EATWELL Project – focused on effective policy interventions to promote good nutrition activity across the EU amidst the rising obesity epidemic – led a survey  in five European countriesUK, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and Poland – to investigate the acceptance of nutrition policies.

“The two policy actions most accepted are the improvement of nutritional education in schools and nutrition labelling measures. In contrast, the least accepted policies are the control of the nutritional content of workplace meals and the introduction of food and drink advertising bans for adults”, said Dr Mario Mazzocchi, University of Bologna, during his presentation of the survey preliminary results at the 11th FENS European Nutrition Conference in Madrid on Thursday 27 October 2011.

Public acceptance of nutrition policies is influenced by age, economic wealth, political views, obesity attributions, and the willingness to pay for such policies.

Support for nutrition policies increases with age and physical activity level, and decrease with economic wealth. People who drink more heavily tend to be less supportive. Political views similarly play a role in acceptance, with conservative political views associated with weaker support regarding advertising regulations and information measures. When it comes to fiscal measures, left of center citizens are significantly more supportive. Consumers who eat out at modern quick service restaurants and frequently consume prepared meals are less supportive of nutrition policies.

There is great variation between countries when it comes to acceptance of nutrition policies.

“Denmark is the most supportive of fiscal interventions, and is also more willing to pay for healthy eating policies in general” said Dr Mazzocchi, “less than 16% of Danish citizens would oppose a tax rise to fund healthy eating actions, and most are prepared to accept a modest rise in taxes to fund measures like price subsidies for healthy foods, free home deliveries for the elderly and education measures”.

In other countries the preference is rather for fewer healthy eating policies and lower taxes.


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