The Politics of Diabetes
Rachel Dry reports on a new study showing the reactions of Democrats and Republicans to news articles about diabetes. Turns out political affiliation does a good job predicting people's reactions to public health problems: When Democrats read articles emphasizing the environmental factors around diabetes, they became more sympathetic to public health programs meant to combat the disease. When conservatives read those articles, they became less sympathetic.
Participants in the study read a mock news article on the American Diabetes Association lobbying Congress for greater attention to Type 2 diabetes, the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Some people read a straight news report, with minimal mention of what causes diabetes. Others read one of three versions of the story: one that pegged the disease primarily to genetic factors; one that emphasized personal choices; and one that focused on social and environmental factors, such as access to safe places to exercise and affordable, healthy food.
The study's authors, University of Pennsylvania researcher Sarah E. Gollust, along with the University of Michigan's Paula M. Lantz and Peter A. Ubel, were most interested in how people responded to the notion that "social determinants" -- how easy it is to buy fresh vegetables or exercise, among other things -- are underlying causes of disease. Public health advocates have been promoting the importance of these factors, believing that the more people know about these circumstances, the more likely they are to want to help.
But that assumption doesn't hold up. When people who identified themselves as Democrats read specifically about the social factors that can lead to Type 2 diabetes, they expressed greater backing for public health policies aimed at addressing those factors; Republicans, by contrast, registered much lower levels of support.
In other words, the more conservatives know about the factors that lead to diabetes, the less likely they are to support efforts to eliminate those factors. Presumably, the article is tapping into some preexisting bias toward "personal responsibility," though it's not exactly clear what people are supposed to do when their kids can't play outside because the streets are too dangerous.
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