Associate Professor Anne Grunseit delivered this presentation at the Public Health Association of Australia’s (PHAA’s) annual prevention conference in Brisbane, 11-13 May 2022.
Calls to make regulatory and policy changes for health promotion can be met with reluctance on the part of policymakers due to concerns of public acceptability. Monitoring trends in community opinion can identify critical opportunities to implement upstream health policies or interventions. Our study examines change and demographic modifiers of change in community perceptions of government intervention for prevention of lifestyle-related chronic disease across two time points in Australia.
Data were drawn from the 2016 (n=2052) and 2018 (n=2601) waves of a nationally representative cross sectional telephone survey, ‘AUSPOPS’. Survey questions gauged perceptions of government intervention for health in general, peoples’/organizations’ role in maintaining health (e.g., parents, government) and support for specific health interventions (e.g., taxing soft drink). Regression models tested for change between the two surveys, adjusted for demographic characteristics. Interaction terms between wave and demographic variables tested differential change. Variance ratio tests examined whether opinions had become more polarized in 2018 compared with 2016.
There was a large, significant increase observed in the perceived size of the role that government has in maintaining people’s health. Support for some government interventions (e.g., taxing soft drinks) increased among only specific demographic subgroups whilst exhibiting no overall change. Opinion was more polarized on general attitudes to government intervention for population health in 2018 compared to 2016, despite little change in central tendency.
Opportunities may exist to implement government health-promoting policies such as regulation of junk food marketing to children, although advocacy may be needed to address the concerns of less supportive subpopulations. Attitudes on government intervention in general may be becoming increasingly polarized, perhaps reflecting a more widespread trend observed on non-health issues.