Tell us what you think about certain public policies designed to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the US.
Please read this hypothetical news article and then answer a few questions at the end.
People with Diabetes Lobby Congress This Week
Washington, March 28 – About 1000 patients with type 2 diabetes (also commonly known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) have converged here as advocates for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). They will be meeting with their members of Congress to discuss their condition and advocate for federal policies to address their disease. In addition, they will hold a rally on Thursday of this week on the National Monument grounds, to attract popular attention to their disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but one-third of these people do not yet know they have the disease. More than 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes which typically emerges when people are adults but which may develop during childhood. The number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has been increasing every year. There were over 1 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in 2005 among adults. Researchers believe that the conditions in the neighborhoods where people live increase their chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Rates of diabetes are highest among people living in poor neighborhoods.
People with type 2 diabetes develop a problem with the way their body secretes or responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. As a result, they have elevated blood sugar levels, which they must check multiple times per day and monitor their food intake. Researchers are working hard to understand more about what causes type 2 diabetes. Diabetes expert Dr. Howard Smith says, "People who live in neighborhoods where the majority of stores sell food with high calories and low nutritional value, such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores, are much more likely to develop diabetes." Several other scientific studies have supported the idea that people’s neighborhoods, including not having convenient or safe places to exercise, and being exposed to many advertisements selling high-calorie foods, are associated with the development of diabetes.
If left untreated, people with diabetes can become blind, have kidney damage, lose their limbs, or die. Physicians, health plans, employers, and policymakers are considering new ways to prevent diabetes, help patients manage their diabetes, and reduce this deadly epidemic. It is expected that the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor will consider several bills about diabetes in the upcoming session of Congress.
Some people with diabetes check their blood sugar with a device called a glucometer.
Having read this news article, please tell us if you agree with the following policies:
The government should impose higher taxes on food high in calories and fat, like it does for cigarettes.
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
The government should provide financial incentives to encourage grocery stores to locate in areas where there are few.
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
The government should regulate advertisements for junk food like it does for cigarettes and alcohol.
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?
- Strong Democrat
- Not so strong Democrat
- Independent, close to Democrat
- Independent, close to Republican
- Not so strong Republican
- Strong Republican
- Don't know, haven't thought much about it
How you answered:
Researchers affiliated with CBDSM and the School of Public Health have found that "Americans' opinions about health policy are polarized on political partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans differ in the ways that they receive and react to messages about the social determinants of health."
In the study, lead author Sarah Gollust, PhD, randomly assigned participants to read one of four hypothetical news articles about type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was used as an example of a common health issue that is widely debated and that is known to have multiple contributing factors, including genetic predisposition, behavioral choices, and social determinants (such as income or neighborhood environments).
The articles were identical except for the causal frame embedded in the text. The article that you read in this Decision of the Month presented social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Other versions of the article presented genetic predisposition or behavioral choices as a cause for type 2 diabetes, and one version had no causal language.
Dr. Gollust then asked the study participants their views of seven nonmedical governmental policies related to the environmental, neighborhood, or economic determinants of diabetes:
- bans on fast food concessions in public schools
- incentives for grocery stores to establish locations where there are currently few
- bans on trans fat in restaurants
- government investment in parks
- regulating junk food advertisements
- imposing taxes on junk foods
- subsidizing the costs of healthy food
Dr. Gollust also asked participants their political party identification and a number of other self-reported characteristics.
The most dramatic finding of this study was that the news story with the social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes had significantly different effects on the policy views of participants, depending on whether they identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. After reading the social determinants article, Democrats expressed a higher level of support for the proposed public health policies. Republicans expressed a lower level of support for the proposed public health policies. This effect occurred only in the group of participants who were randomly assigned to read the version of the news article with social determinants given as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Dr. Gollust summarizes: "Exposure to the social determinants message produced a divergence of opinion by political party, with Democrats and Republicans differing in their opinions by nearly 0.5 units of the 5-point scale."
The study suggests several possible explanations for these results:
"First, the social determinants media frame may have presumed a liberal worldview to which the Republican study participants disagreed or found factually erroneous (ie, not credible), but with which Democrats felt more comfortable or found more familiar. . . Second, media consumption is becoming increasingly polarized by party identification, and . . . the social determinants message may have appeared particularly biased to Republicans. . .Third, the social determinants frame may have primed, or activated, study participants' underlying attitudes about the social group highlighted in the news article. . . Fourth, participants' party identification likely serves as proxy for . . . values held regarding personal versus social responsibility for health."
Dr. Gollust and her colleagues conclude that if public health advocates want to mobilize the American public to support certain health policies, a segmented communication approach may be needed. Some subgroups of Americans will not find a message about social determinants credible. These subgroups value personal responsibility and find social determinants antagonistic to their worldview. To avoid triggering immediate resistance by these citizens to information about social determinants of health, public health advocates may consider the use of information about individual behavioral factors in educational materials, while working to build public familiarity with and acceptance of research data on social determinants.
For more details about this study:
Gollust SE, Lantz PM, Ubel PA, The polarizing effect of news media messages about the social determinants of health, Am J Public Health 2009, 99:2160-2167.