New research reveals public acceptance to policies addressing obesity

Monday 16 June, 2014. New research¹ that investigates public attitudes to obesity-targeted policies reveals that child-related interventions are the most strongly favoured. The report Irish Public Attitudes towards Obesity Policies’, which will be launched tomorrow at a workshop in Belfast hosted by safefood, highlights higher levels of public support in Ireland for the majority of obesity policy measures when compared with other European countries.

Launching the research, co-author Dr Mary McCarthy, Principle Investigator, HRB Centre for Health and Diet Research, University College Cork said “It’s encouraging that levels of support here for many of the policy measures we surveyed are higher when compared with similar population studies in the UK and Europe. Indeed 82% were positive towards mandating a ban of vending machines in all schools. This is over 20% higher than was observed in a study across the UK and Italy. Furthermore, general receptiveness towards the broad range of polices, including taxation measures, suggests that Irish citizens recognise the many potential influences contributing to the current obesity crisis. These policies, if implemented, could further support informed choices and somewhat alter the food market landscape. Thus, understanding public attitudes to policy interventions designed to address obesity is critical to ensuring their success as it gauges the willingness of the public to adopt them.”

Welcoming the research, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said “This research indicates that there’s a great openness to change and an acceptance of public policy measures to  address obesity whether that’s in schools, in the pricing of foods or the provision of health information about foods. People regard these policies as both reasonable and acceptable. Acceptance of child-focused policies was especially high (92%) and this echoes the initial feedback we’ve received to our own childhood campaign, where 77% of parents agreed the campaign was relevant to them and 82% agreed the ads motivated them to start thinking differently about how to manage obesity in children”.

We know from previous safefood research that significantly more people support a tax on sugar sweetened beverages than three years ago. This appetite for change is influenced by public debate, understanding the potential benefits of change, and a belief in how effective a proposed public health intervention can be.”

There was also high support for what might be seen as more intrusive policies, such as reduced VAT rates for healthy foods and higher VAT rates for unhealthy foods (79%) and planning restrictions for fast food outlets in towns and cities (66%).

The researchers, headed by a team from University College Cork and University College Dublin, assigned 30 obesity-oriented policies into four distinct groups; Child-focused policies; Information interventions; Fiscal measures and Industry-regulation measures.

Published by safefood on behalf of the Irish Health Research Board (HRB) Centre for Health and Diet Research, the report ‘Irish Public Attitudes towards Obesity Policies’ (Heery, E; Delaney, M; Kelleher, C; Wall, P; and McCarthy, M) is available as both a two-page summary and to download from

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact

Dermot Moriarty/Julie Carroll, safefood

Tel: 01 448 0600 / 086 381 1034 (Dermot)

Muireann Kirby. WHPR

Tel: 01 669 0142 / 086 3710000


‘Irish Public Attitudes towards Obesity Policies’ (Heery, E; Delaney, M; Kelleher, C; Wall, P; and McCarthy, M; safefood; HRB; IPSOS MRBI)

Editor’s Notes

  • The survey was conducted among 500 adults living in Ireland between June & July 2013 through face to face interviews in the respondent’s home
  • 30 obesity-related policy items were included in the survey and grouped in the following way;
  1. Child-focused policies: This group gathers together all child-related related measures including banning vending machines in schools and regulation of the nutritional content of school meals.
  2. Informational interventions: All informational and promotional measures aimed at the general population (i.e. not child-focused) are brought together in this group, including information campaigns, education/training measures and food labelling.
  3. Fiscal measures: This group brings together taxes on unhealthy foods, VAT measures and subsidies for healthy foods.
  4. Industry-regulation measures: This group gathers together regulatory measures relating to businesses, such as restrictions on portion size in restaurants, health insurance price reductions for normal weight individuals and banning special offers on high sugar and high fat foods.