Ninety-four percent of registered voters surveyed in 12 rural California counties say obesity is a serious problem for the nation, and 84 percent believe it’s a serious problem for their communities, a Field Research poll released Tuesday, January 22nd finds. A majority of these voters say their communities should do more to address obesity, and want help from business, government, individuals and community groups.

View the results summary.

As negotiations continue in Washington, D.C. over federal spending cuts that would slash public health funding, rural California voters of both political parties say that public investments aimed at keeping people healthy pay for themselves in the long run by preventing chronic disease and reducing health care costs.

The survey was conducted by the Field Research Corporation and is believed to be the first to explore health-related voter opinion exclusively in California’s rural counties. These counties are part of the Public Health Institute’s (PHI) CA4Health, a 5-year initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the nation-wide Community Transformation Grant (CTG) program. The CTG program was developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with funding from the Prevention and Public Health Fund of the Affordable Care Act and is expected to improve the health of more than 4 out of 10 U.S. citizens—about 130 million Americans.

“California residents want their communities to be places that help them lead healthier lives,” said Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of PHI. “These Community Transformation Grants do exactly that—neighbors, doctors, schools and local health departments are working together to identify barriers to health and address them.”

Preventable chronic disease is responsible for the vast majority of our health care costs. Nearly 75 percent of health care spending goes to treat largely preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers. In 2011, 60.2 percent of all California residents were obese or overweight; if they lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight, California would save nearly $82 billion and prevent about 800,000 cases of diabetes.

California voters want solutions and believe a range of community leaders and public action should be involved:

  • Survey respondents strongly believe that a wide range of community leaders should be involved in efforts to reduce obesity. Clear majorities say doctors and nurses (96%), local schools (91%), food and beverage companies (79%), employers (67%) and local, state and federal government (65-68%) should play a role in reducing obesity.
  • 78 percent of voters agree that public investments aimed at keeping people healthy, like building parks and promoting neighborhood safety, pay for themselves in the long run by preventing disease and reducing health care costs.
  • The majority of voters “strongly favor” some community actions to reduce obesity among residents, including making fresh drinking water available in schools, parks and public buildings (80%), and strengthening school nutrition standards to limit the types of unhealthy foods and drinks sold in the schools (61%).

In California’s rural and less populous counties, the CTG program will make it safer for children to walk to school, make fresh drinking water available and get sugar-sweetened drinks out of schools, reduce exposure to second hand smoke, and will help people with chronic diseases live healthier lives. These rural counties have often been overlooked by previous funding streams that supported healthy community change. Similar CTG efforts are under way in almost every county across the state.

Evidence shows that these kinds of approaches work: Where multi-pronged strategies to prevent obesity have been pursued, communities are starting to see results. A recent study found that obesity rates, after years of steady increases, had dropped by 3-5 percent, and among certain population groups by as much as 8-12.5 percent, in cities that have had comprehensive obesity prevention policies in place for several years.

“Prevention is the best–and most cost-effective–medicine,” said Dr. Michael Stacey, Chief Medical Officer/ Deputy Health Officer for Solano County Public Health. “As a physician I see patients come in with preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes or heart disease. I treat them, but then send them right back out into environments that don’t support health. Improving the health of my patients involves improving the health of the communities in which they live. Reducing exposure to tobacco smoke, increasing access to healthy foods and beverages, and creating walkable neighborhoods are things you can’t write a prescription for, but that are absolutely necessary to turn our health care system around.”

The 12 counties Field surveyed were: Calaveras, Humboldt, Imperial, Madera, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Shasta, Siskiyou, Solano, Tulare and Tuolumne. Field is the organization that conducts the media-sponsored Field Poll. CA4Health works with local health departments and their community partners to improve health in rural and less populous areas of California.

Download the statewide results.

For more information or for county-by-county results, contact Ann Whidden, Senior Communications Manager, 415-425-5157.


See news coverage of this story at HealthyCal.org and California Healthline.