Journal of Public Health Policy

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 91–106 | Cite as

European Union public opinion on policy measures to address childhood overweight and obesity

  • L Suzanne Suggs
  • Chris McIntyre
Original Article


Increases in pediatric overweight and obesity throughout the European Union (EU) generate concern because of the many associated co-morbidities, psychosocial effects, and economic costs. A variety of policy approaches have been implemented, but counteracting weight gain has proven challenging. Do differences in public opinion about policy options to fight the problem exist among EU countries? We obtained data for our study from the Eurobarometer and include representative samples from all EU Member States plus four prospective countries. Our results suggest strong consistency among EU countries in support for two policies: providing information to parents and more physical activity in schools. For improving children's diets, our data show widespread support for providing parents with information, education programs in schools, and restrictions on advertising. For reducing childhood obesity, more physical activity in schools received the most support followed by education and advertising restrictions. There was very little support for imposing taxes on unhealthy food.


public opinion health communication childhood obesity health policy Eurobarometer European Union 



  1. Hyde, R. (2008) Europe battles with obesity. The Lancet 371: 2160–2161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Mazzocchi, M. and Traill, W.B. (2005) Nutrition, health and economic policies in Europe. Food Economics – Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica 2 (3): 138–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Knai, C., Suhrcke, M. and Lobstein, T. (2007) Obesity in Eastern Europe: An overview of its health and economic implications. Economics and Human Biology 5: 392–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. World Health Organization. (2004) Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Geneva 2004,, accessed 2 April 2010.
  5. European Charter on Counteracting Obesity. (2006) WHO European Ministerial Conference on Counteracting Obesity. Istanbul, Turkey, 15–17 November 2006, EUR/06/50627008.Google Scholar
  6. Lobstein, T. and Baur, L.A. (2005) Policies to prevent childhood obesity in the European Union. The European Journal of Public Health 15 (6): 576–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Lobstein, T., Kestens, M. and Løgstrup, S. (2006) Policy Options to Prevent Child Obesity. Stakeholder Consultations Carried Out in the Context of the Project On: Children, Obesity and Associated Avoidable Chronic Diseases. Brussels, Belgium: The European Heart Network.Google Scholar
  8. Caraher, M., Landon, J. and Dalmey, K. (2006) Television advertising and children: Lessons from policy development. Public Health Nutrition 9 (5): 596–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gostin, L.O. (2007) Law as a tool to facilitate healthier lifestyles and prevent obesity. Journal of the American Medical Association 297: 87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Commission of the European Communities. (2005) Green Paper. Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: A European dimension for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases. Brussels (COM2005) 637 final;
  11. Ruowei, L., Rock, V.J. and Grummer-Strawn, L. (2007) Changes in public attitudes toward breastfeeding in the United States, 1999–2003. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 107 (1): 122–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Schomerus, G., Angermeyer, M.C., Matschinger, H. and Riedel-Heller, S.G. (2008) Public attitudes towards prevention of depression. Journal of Affective Disorders 106 (3): 257–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Young, B.M., De Bruin, A. and Eagle, L. (2003) Attitudes of parents toward advertising to children in the UK, Sweden, and New Zealand. Journal of Marketing Management 19: 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Doucet, J.M., Velicer, W.F. and Laforge, R.G. (2007) Demographic differences in support for smoking policy interventions. Addictive Behaviors 32 (1): 148–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hardus, P.M., Van Vuuren, C.L., Crawford, D. and Worsley, A. (2003) Public perceptions of the causes and the prevention of obesity among primary school children. International Journal of Obesity 27: 1465–1471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, W.D., Finkelstein, E.A., Kamerow, D.B. and Renaud, J.M. (2005) Public perceptions of childhood obesity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 28 (1): 26–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Evans, W.D., Renaud, J.M., Finkelstein, E.A., Kamerow, D.B. and Brown, D.S. (2006) Changing perceptions of the childhood obesity epidemic. American Journal of Health Behavior 30 (2): 167–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Oliver, J.E. and Lee, T. (2005) Public opinion and the politics of America's obesity epidemic. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 30 (5): 923–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hilbert, A., Rief, W. and Braehler, E. (2006) What determines public support of obesity prevention? Journal of Epidemiology Community Health 61: 585–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Papacostas, A. (2006) Eurobarometer 64.3: Foreign languages, biotechnology, organized crime, and health items, November–December 2005 [Computer file]. ICPSR04590-v2. Brussels, Belgium: TNS Opinion & Social/EOS Gallup Europe [producers], 2006. Cologne, Germany: Zentralarchiv fur Empirische Sozialforschung/Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributors], 2007-04-11.Google Scholar
  21. Story, M.T. et al (2002) Management of child and adolescent obesity: Attitudes, barriers, skills, and training needs among health professionals. Pediatrics 110: 210–214.Google Scholar
  22. Snyder, L. et al (2008) Meta-analysis of the effectiveness of tailored interventions over time. Presented at the American Public Health Association Conference 2008.Google Scholar
  23. Noar, S.M., Benac, C.N. and Harris, M.S. (2007) Does tailoring matter? Meta-analytic review of tailored print health behavior change interventions. Psychology Bulletin 133 (4): 673–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Suggs, L.S. (2006) A 10-year retrospective of research in new technologies for health communication. Journal of Health Communication 11 (1): 61–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Doak, C.M., Visscher, T.L.S., Renders, C.M. and Seidell, J.C. (2006) The prevention of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents: A review of interventions and programmes. Obesity Review 7 (1): 111–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hearn, L., Miller, M., Campbell-Pope, R. and Waters, S. (2006) Preventing overweight and obesity in young children: synthesising the evidence for management and policy making. Perth, Australia: Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University.Google Scholar
  27. de Sa, J. and Lock, K. (2008) Will European agricultural policy for school fruit and vegetables improve public health? A review of school fruit and vegetable programmes. The European Journal of Public Health 18 (6): 558–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hastings, G. et al (2003) Review of Research on the Effects of Food Promotion to Children. Glasgow, UK: Centre for Social Marketing.Google Scholar
  29. Skinner, T., Miller, H. and Bryant, C. (2005) The literature on the economic causes of and policy responses to obesity. Food Economics – Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica 2 (3): 128–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Garde, A. (2008) Food advertising and obesity prevention: What role for the European Union? Journal of Consumer Policy 31: 25–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • L Suzanne Suggs
    • 1
  • Chris McIntyre
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Public Communication and Education, Faculty of Communication Sciences, Università della Svizzera italianaLuganoSwitzerland
  2. 2.Health X ChangeLuganoSwitzerland
  3. 3.Faculty of Communication SciencesLuganoSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations