Americans Support Food Freedom by a Wide Margin

A new poll finds Americans oppose food bans by a 5-1 margin and food taxes by a 2-1 margin. Supporters of food freedom should take note-and maybe even a victory lap.


A new poll finds Americans have little stomach "for policies that would constrain consumer choices…such as limits on the amount or type of food that can be purchased or taxes on unhealthy foods or drinks."

The national poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, released last week by the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, contains several "[s]ignificant findings" that bolster the case for food freedom.

Respondents expressed universal opposition to food bans and taxes. While opposition to bans on marketing "unhealthy foods aimed at children" only trumped support slightly, opponents of taxing those same foods outnumbered supporters by a nearly 2-1 margin, and those who opposed "[l]imiting the types or amounts of foods and drinks people can buy" outnumbered supporters of food bans by a startling 5-1 margin (74 percent to 15 percent).

Furthermore, when asked whether maintaining a healthy weight was something "the whole community, including the schools, government, health care providers, and the food industry should deal with," less than one-third of respondents favored that approach, while 52 percent stated this was "something individuals should deal with on their own."

The study reveals 97 percent of respondents believe the most likely cause of obesity is sedentary inactivity related to "TV, video game[s] and computer[s]."

While I don't claim to know the root cause(s) of obesity, this strong belief among respondents that Americans are obese because we sit on our butts too much has been echoed by research. For example, in a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Public Health, "Economic Causes and Consequences of Obesity," researcher Eric Finkelstein and his colleagues looked at the results of four previous obesity studies and found "[t]he published evidence, although not conclusive, suggests that technology may be primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic."

Amazingly, the very same study by Finkelstein was later used as the sole scientific basis of New York City's soda ban.

When I filed comments this past summer on behalf of Keep Food Legal and its members in opposition to the ban, I blasted it in part because, I wrote, "the only evidence" New York City's health department had cited as a basis for the proposed ban was Finkelstein's "2005 Annual Review of Public Health journal article" which, I argued, "might better be used to support a ban on iPhones, televisions, or public transportation."

While the AP/NORC poll can be used to further bolster the case for food freedom against disingenuous, restrictive policies like that adopted in New York, it also provides a welcome counter to some recent frank research with which I nonetheless have taken issue.

In a column last summer, I expressed skepticism over the results of a survey research paper authored by Prof. Jayson Lusk, who concluded "that a majority of respondents can be classified as 'food statists'… who support 'more government action in the realm food and agricultural relative to the status quo.'"

I offered largely anecdotal opposition to Lusk's conclusion, writing that "people who champion food freedom… make up a much larger percentage of the population than this research would indicate."

While I didn't need a poll to tell me that what I see every day in my own work reflects a larger consensus across the country, I'm nonetheless grateful that the AP/NORC poll results do reflect this reality. And though the poll has so far received little fanfare beyond an AP article (hardly unexpected), I believe the poll results are a welcome shot in the arm for supporters of the food freedom movement—and a shot across the bow of its opponents.

Those opponents are legion in academia, public health, and the media.

Two days after the AP/NORC published its poll results, an op-ed calling for increased regulation of the food supply appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The author, Dr. Robert Lustig, urged the FDA to cap the amount of added sugar that can appear in any foods.

That same day, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman called for "anti-tobacco-style legislation" to combat food advertisers and celebrity endorsers like Beyoncé Knowles who "think it's O.K. to sell soda."

Bittman also appealed in his column to "public opinion" to help turn the tide against food freedom and in favor of restrictions on food and food marketing.

Thanks to the AP/NORC poll, we can all be more certain on which side of the debate public opinion rests.