Majority of UK Public Thinks it is Right for the Government to Tell People that They Should Lose Weight

August 3, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Health | Personal Habits | UK Government

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The UK has one of the most obese populations in the developed world: 27.8% of UK adults are obese,  while 63.7% are classed as overweight or obese. Amid growing evidence of a link between obesity and an increased risk from Covid-19, the Prime Minister has unveiled a strategy aimed at tackling obesity. A range of measures are included in the strategy, which will include a national campaign to help people lose weight. In our latest UK polling, we found that a majority (52%) of Brits believe it is right for the UK Government to tell people they should lose weight. 

Older respondents (i.e. those aged 65 and above) are especially likely to be in favour of the UK Government taking an active role in telling people to lose weight: 60% would support this policy. In contrast, just 35% of 18-24 year olds believe the Government should tell people to lose weight. There is also a degree of differentiation depending on who respondents voted for in the 2019 General Election: 58% of Conservative voters support the Government telling people to lose weight, while only 47% of Labour supporters hold this view. It is likely that greater support among Conservatives may be due to their inclination to support the policies of the Government they helped to elect, rather than due to the specific nature of the policy.

Although there is broad support for the Government telling people to lose weight, a slight plurality (37%) think that the Government should not seek to influence the decisions people make about their own health. Nevertheless, a significant minority (35%) believe the Government should seek to influence the public’s health choices. Furthermore, a substantial proportion (26%) of the population ‘neither agree nor disagree,’ indicating that they are uncertain about the issue at this stage. 

Once again, young people are significantly less likely to support the Government taking an interventionist approach to public health: 54% of those aged 18-24 agree that the Government should not seek to influence the decisions people make about their own health. Nearly half (49%) of 2019 Labour voters agree that the Government should not seek to influence people’s health decisions, whereas less than a third (32%) of Conservative supporters hold this view.

Several measures are included as part of the new obesity strategy unveiled by the Government, including a ban on TV and online adverts for food high in fat, sugar, and salt before 9pm, the end of ‘buy one get one free’ deals on unhealthy food in supermarkets, and the requirement for larger restaurants to display calorie information on menus. A clear majority (58%) of Brits approve of these decisions altogether. Only 17% disapprove of the Government’s announcement. Even among more sceptical younger respondents, a clear plurality (44%) approve of the Government’s decision, while less than a quarter (24%) disapprove. 

Notably, the Government’s decision to launch an obesity strategy has the approval of a clear majority (58%) of those who voted Labour in the 2019 General Election. 62% of 2019 Conservative supporters also approve of the measures. Ultimately, the Government’s obesity strategy is supported by respondents across the political divide.

Although over two-thirds (69%) of the population think that the Government’s new anti-obesity measures will have no impact on their eating impacts, almost a fifth (19%) of Brits state that the Government’s strategy may influence their eating habits. Moreover, 12% of the public ‘don’t know’ if the measures will have an impact.

Interestingly, younger respondents are more likely to consider that the Government’s obesity measures will have an impact on eating habits. 29% of 18-24 year olds and 28% of 25-35 year olds believe the strategy will make a difference to their eating decisions. Despite being promoted by a Conservative Government, Labour voters are said they were more likely (24%) to be impacted influenced by the measures than Conservative supporters voters (18%). The Government may be concerned that only a limited number of older respondents (who are more likely to have health conditions related to their weight) aged 55-64 (9%) and 65+ (12%) will say they will be impacted influenced by the newir policystrategy.

The UK public is broadly in favour of many of the individual aspects components of the new strategy – 62% support the Government’s decision to ban junk food adverts on TV before 9pm, while just 10% oppose. 

A majority of all age brackets, excepting 18-24 year olds (41%), support a junk food advert ban. Over two thirds (68%) of Conservative supporters and a clear majority (59%) of Labour voters approve of the decision. 

Two thirds (66%) of the public are in favour of the Government’s decision to make larger restaurant chains introduce calorie counts on menus, while just 15% oppose the measure. 

A slight plurality (39%) of respondents think it is unlikely that calorie counts on menus will make a difference to the food they order in restaurants. Nevertheless, almost a quarter (24%) currently believe it is ‘neither likely nor unlikely’ that the policy will impact their decision, which indicates many remain uncertain at this stage about how the change will affect their decision making.

Significantly, over a third (35%) of the public consider that calorie counts on menus will make a difference to the food they order in restaurants, which indicates that this policy may have a degree of success in persuading people to eat more healthily. However, the Government has been criticised for promoting ‘mixed messages’ by enabling fast-food chains including McDonald’s and KFC to sign up to its ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which will reduce the prices of unhealthy foods and has been referred to as a “green light for junk food.” At this stage, it is unclear whether the Government will be able to reduce job losses in the hospitality industry (including within fast food restaurants, pubs and bars) while also successfully pursuing a healthy-eating drive.

The public is more divided on the Government’s decision to ban buy-one-get-one free offers on unhealthy products in supermarkets. Although a clear plurality (47%) support the measure, a significant minority (29%) oppose the policy. The stronger opposition to this aspect of the strategy, in comparison to other new anti-obesity measures, may be due to the potential for the policy to have a direct financial impact on respondents. 

Ultimately, the public is broadly in favour of the Government telling the UK population to lose some weight. Paradoxically, while a slight plurality does not support, at an abstract level, the Government influencing the decisions people make about their own health, the public broadly approve of the various policies announced within the Government’s recently published anti-obesity strategy. Moreover, aspects of the strategy (in particular calorie counters on menus) may have a significant impact on the eating decisions for some, which will increase the likelihood that the scheme will be successful.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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