Does the government have a role to play in preventing childhood obesity, helping smokers quit and heading off chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease? Yes, according to survey results published by the journal Health Affairs.
Two health policy experts from Harvard University wanted to find out how the public was responding to what they called "new frontier" public health initiatives aimed at changing consumer behavior, such as New York City's ban on super-sized sodas.
After all, they noted, the three leading causes of death among Americans in 2000 were behavior-related (tobacco use contributed to 18.1 percent of deaths that year, poor diet and exercise habits played a role in 16.6 percent, and alcohol was a factor in 3.5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Stephanie Morain and Michelle M. Mello conducted an online survey of 1,817 Americans and asked them about a variety of policy options.
Overall, 75 percent said the CDC was doing a "good" or "excellent" job, and more than half gave the same ratings to their state and local public health agencies.
When it came to assessing the government's public health agenda, there was broad support for preventing cancer (89 percent were in favor), preventing heart disease (86 percent ), preventing obesity in children (81 percent ) and adults (76 percent ), preventing and reducing tobacco use (76 percent ) and reducing alcohol consumption (70 percent ). Also, 84 percent agreed that the government should help people with diabetes control their disease.
But the government should not use coercive policies or punitive measures in pursuit of these goals, survey respondents said.