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Who's to Blame? Blame Attributions and Obesity-related Law and Policy

Lindsey E Wylie, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Obesity is a foremost public health concern that has received considerable attention. Because of this so-named “epidemic,” law-makers are challenged with implementing effective policies that the public supports. Little is known, however, about the antecedents and consequences of these policies—especially attributions of blameworthiness. Study 1 developed the Obesity Blame Attribution Scale (OBAS). Confirmatory factor analysis demonstrated that controllability, responsibility and dispositional blame were separate constructs and were part of a higher-order dispositional blame factor. Situational blame was a separate higher-order factor, not correlated with dispositional blame, consisting of blame toward the food industry and towards government policy. Using the OBAS, Study 2 examined how blame is attributed according to target characteristics within the context of two prominent blame theories (Shaver’s Theory of Blame and Alicke’s Culpable Control Model); and whether blame is a necessary antecedent for support of obesity-targeted policies. The results indicated weight group (obese versus average), but not health choice (makes healthy versus unhealthy food choices) or attribution type (specific or general), predicted blame-related attributions. And, although measured variables such as anti-fat attitudes, stereotype content, and disgust were significantly correlated with blame attributions, they did not uniquely predict blame attributions above controllability and responsibility attributions. Higher blame attributions toward the target, and higher general dispositional blame predicted support for the dispositional-framed policy. Study 3 tested the behavioral assumptions of a policy presented in Study 2 to observe whether laws that blame people who are obese contributed to behaviors congruent to the law’s intent. After reading one of three vending machine laws that varied by the legislative intent behind them (blamed individuals, blamed the food environment or no blame control), participants with varying BMI were more likely to choose the stairs over the elevator and take a gym flyer following the individual-blame framed policy than the other two policies. Policy type did not affect food consumption, taking additional snacks, internalization of stigma, or negative emotions. These studies suggest people who endorsed higher blame attributions are more likely to support policies that focus on personal responsibility and blame, and these policies in turn may have short-term effects on health outcomes.^

Subject Area

Law|Social psychology|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Wylie, Lindsey E, "Who's to Blame? Blame Attributions and Obesity-related Law and Policy" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3718070.