Communicating Inequalities to Enhance Support for Obesity-Prevention Policies: The Role of Social Comparisons, Age Frames, and Emotion

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With certain populations in the United States at higher risk for obesity than other populations, public health advocates have attempted to draw attention to these inequalities to galvanize support for obesity-mitigation policies. Yet research comparing different messages about social inequalities indicates that not all social comparisons are persuasive. Drawing on Weiner’s (1986) theory of perceived responsibility and social motivation, I experimentally tested promising message frames about obesity disparities. Participants (N = 653) read one of six messages following a 3 (social comparison frame: geographic vs. racial vs. no-comparison) × 2 (age frame: child vs. adult) between-subjects design. Unexpectedly, geographic frames (rural/urban) indirectly decreased policy support relative to the control frame by way of increased counterarguing. Compared to adult frames about obesity inequalities, childhood frames evoked more sympathy and less internal attribution, which in turn positively predicted support for obesity-prevention policies. Practical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-237
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 28 2019


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication

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