Weighted Policymaking: Federal, State and Local Politics of Obesity
Rodriguez, Gail Meier
University of Kansas
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In less than one generation, more than two-thirds of American adults have become overweight or obese. The financial and societal costs of obesity shift this condition from a private to a public problem necessitating a collective solution and an understanding of it as a public policy issue. This dissertation approaches obesity from three perspectives: individual, state and federal. Using public opinion survey data, Chapter One examines the factors that predict individuals' acceptance of government interventions to resolve it. As opinion scholars theorize, awareness and socio-demographic characteristics exert a strong effect on preferences for a public policy solution. Additionally, factors that predict a positive attitude toward adult-directed policies do not have the same effect on attitudes toward child-directed policies. These results suggest that childhood anti-obesity efforts are viewed differently from those aimed at the general population, perhaps because childhood obesity is a newer phenomenon and Americans are less certain of their preferences toward a demographic group perceived as less culpable for their condition. Chapter Two uses integrated diffusion of innovation and agenda setting theory to investigate the factors that encourage states to consider and enact measures to combat obesity. I evaluate consideration and enactment of anti-obesity legislation separately, facilitating a more nuanced understanding of diffusion. This approach leads to a surprising conclusion: the determinants of policy consideration are quite different from those of enactment. Political factors are much more predictive in the consideration and agenda setting stage than in the passage stage of anti-obesity legislation. In the final chapter, I study how federal agencies cooperate to forge solutions to the obesity epidemic. Elinor Ostrom's Institutional Analysis and Design framework guides this qualitative research. Results of semi-structured interviews and documents review indicate that collaboration among federal agencies is accepted despite the absence of formal rules mandating it. Collaborative behavior may be a professional norm among public health policymakers and an inherent part of their training. The role of resources is nuanced: bureaucrats cooperate as theorized to gain access to and share assets, but a certain level of resources is necessary to credential groups to participate in interagency initiatives.
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- Political Science Dissertations and Theses 
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