Effectiveness of obesity message varies by political leanings

Prevention messages that focus on obesity's threat to military readiness are popular among people who self-identify as politically conservative, according to a new study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

Conservatives who were exposed to that message were more likely to agree with government intervention on the issue, than conservatives who were not exposed to that message, concluded a research team, led by the University of Minnesota.

It tested 11 messages commonly cited as consequences of obesity in children. The effectiveness of the messages varied, depending on whether they were heard by people who self-identified as liberals, moderates or conservatives, lead author Sarah Gollust said.

In contrast, researchers found that people who self-identified as liberals had high support for government intervention on obesity due to the high health care costs associated with the condition. Moderates rated a message about children being targets of bullying as particularly strong.

The research shows that some obesity prevention messages are more effective than others, depending on the target group, said Gollust, a U of M public opinion researcher.

"Trying to understand what motivates people in a really evidence-based way could help us better design and target public health messages to appeal people, to appeal to their values in a way that matters to them," she said.