Interventions and public health nutrition

In a class of their own: the Danish public considers obesity less deserving of treatment compared with smoking-related diseases

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Abstract

Background/objectives:

This study examined public support for publicly funded treatment of obesity (weight-loss surgery and medical treatment) and two pulmonary diseases (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer) in Denmark. It also investigated whether beliefs about the causes of lifestyle-related diseases (external environment, genetic disposition and lack of willpower) and agreement that ‘people lack responsibility for their life and welfare’ influenced support.

Subjects/methods:

This was a questionnaire study in which a sample of 1003 Danes (age 18–65 years) drawn from an Internet database were surveyed.

Results:

Approximately one in three supported publicly funded weight-loss surgery (30%) and medical treatment of obesity (34.4%). A large majority supported treatment for lung cancer (86.1%), and a clear majority also supported treatment for COPD, whether it was framed as ‘smoker’s lung’ (61.9%) or COPD (71.2%). The belief that lifestyle-related diseases are caused by the external environment or genetic disposition did not systematically influence support. Agreement that ‘people lack responsibility for their life and welfare’ reduced support significantly for all treatment types. However, in contrast with pulmonary diseases, support for publicly funded obesity treatments decreased considerably when beliefs about individual failure (that is that people lack ‘willpower’ and ‘individual responsibility’) were detected.

Conclusions:

Support for publicly funded COPD and lung cancer treatment is considerably higher than that for obesity treatment. This could encourage institutional discrimination through policies that involve charging patients for the treatment of obesity but not for the treatment of other lifestyle-related diseases.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Paul Robinson and Katherine O’Doherty Jensen for language editing. The work was carried out as part of the research program ‘Governing Obesity’ funded by the University of Copenhagen Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research (www.go.ku.dk). We also thank the Department of Food and Resource Economics for financial support enabling us to carry out the survey.

Author information

Correspondence to T B Lund.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Lund, T., Nielsen, M. & Sandøe, P. In a class of their own: the Danish public considers obesity less deserving of treatment compared with smoking-related diseases. Eur J Clin Nutr 69, 514–518 (2015) doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.185

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