This study aimed to investigate community support for government-led policy initiatives to positively influence the food environment, and to identify whether there is a relationship between support for food policy initiatives and awareness of the link between obesity-related lifestyle risk factors and cancer.
An online survey of knowledge of cancer risk factors and attitudes to policy initiatives that influence the food environment was completed by 2474 adults from New South Wales, Australia. The proportion of participants in support of seven food policy initiatives was quantified in relation to awareness of the link between obesity, poor diet, insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical inactivity with cancer and other health conditions.
Overall, policies that involved taxing unhealthy foods received the least support (41.5%). Support was highest for introducing a colour-coded food labelling system (85.9%), restricting claims being made about the health benefits of foods which are, overall, unhealthy (82.6%), displaying health warning labels on unhealthy foods (78.7%) and banning unhealthy food advertising that targets children (72.6%). Participants who were aware that obesity-related lifestyle factors are related to cancer were significantly more likely to support food policy initiatives than those who were unaware. Only 17.5% of participants were aware that obesity, poor diet, insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical inactivity are linked to cancer.
The study shows that there is strong support for all policies related to food labelling and a policy banning unhealthy food advertising to children. Support for food policy initiatives that positively influence the food environment was higher among those who were aware of the link between cancer and obesity-related lifestyle factors than among those who were unaware of this link. Increasing awareness of the link between obesity-related lifestyle factors and cancer could increase community support for food policy initiatives, which, in turn, support the population to maintain a healthy weight.