Amid the baying for regulations to tackle obesity, has anyone asked overweight people what they think? Siân Harrington has new research to hand

Who can shout louder? Single-issue groups, NGOs, doctors, food suppliers, retailers or hacks? The answer will be apparent if the Public Health White Paper finally surfaces next week. But has anybody thought to ask overweight people themselves?
New research has done just that. The idea was to find out what overweight people see as the cause of their weight and what solutions they feel will be effective. After all, what is the point of initiatives, suggested by thin people, if overweight people say they will not work?
Stimulating World questioned small groups of consumers to explore feelings in-depth. And Market Tools looked at 600 otherwise healthy people across a range of weights, using Body Mass Index to identify whether they were normal weight or overweight/obese.
The surveys revealed the same results. Overweight people blame themselves rather than outside influences for their condition but feel unable to solve the problem. A total of 94% say dietary factors are the problem. Genetic factors comes in at 51%. Food ads are mentioned by 23% while labelling (being able to identify what is fattening) is ticked by 17%.
“They know they have weaknesses. They know they can’t go past McDonald’s without popping in and that they put more in their basket than they should,” says Dominic Scott-Malden from Stimulating World. “But they do not see it as the fault of the people who provide them with the products. There were comments such as ‘thin people see the same advertising and products’, or ‘there are plenty of fruit and vegetables out there’.”
These people believe the best solutions are those that are direct and offer encouragement, such as personal training and counselling. The least likely to succeed are punitive ones, such as advertising restrictions or traffic-light labelling. “They are very against the so called fat tax or overpricing their favourite food and one of the enjoyments in their lives,” says Scott-Malden.
Advertising does sometimes prompt impulse eating - popping to the fridge after seeing Cadbury’s sponsorship of Coronation Street is mentioned - but respondents know this chocolate is only in the fridge because they purchased it in the first place.
Meanwhile, thin people are far more likely to believe restrictive measures on the food industry and advertising will tackle obesity. Among overweight individuals free exercise facilities are mentioned by 64% and price reductions on healthy foods by 54% while clearer labelling is seen as effective by a mere one in eight (12%), government advertising to promote healthy eating by 3% and an ad ban by a paltry 2%. Among normal weight adults, clearer labelling is cited by 40%, government advertising by a quarter and an ad ban by 14%.
When it comes to obese children, overweight mothers feel guilty about being unable to control their children’s food intake but cite lack of exercise (89%) and lack of guidance (87%) as to blame. Labelling is mentioned by just 21%.
Greater parental guidance, healthier school dinners, making it safe to be active outdoors, more exercise in school and healthy options in vending machines at school were overwhelmingly seen as the best solutions.
The message from overweight and obese people is that restrictive measures will not make a blind bit of difference. The only way to tackle obesity is support and encouragement. It is the only thing that will work.