Sugar tax and product reformulation proposals reduce the perceived legitimacy of health-promotion institutions: a randomized population-based survey experiment

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Abstract

Background Structural nutrition interventions like a sugar tax or a product reformulation are strongly supported among the public health community but may cause a considerable backlash (e.g. inspiring aversion to institutions initiating the interventions among citizens). Such a backlash potentially undermines future health-promotion strategies. This study aims to uncover whether such backlash exists.Methods We fielded a pre-registered randomized, population-based survey experiment among adults from the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences panel (n = 1765; based on a random sampling of the Dutch population register). Participants were randomly allocated to the control condition (brief facts about health-information provision/nudging), or one of two experimental groups (the same facts, expanded with either a proposed sugar tax on or reformulation of sugar-sweetened beverages). Ordinary least squares regression was used to estimate the proposed interventions' effects on four outcome variables: trust in health-promotion institutions involved; perceptions that these institutions have citizens' well-being in mind (i.e. benevolence); perceptions that these institutions' perspectives are similar to those of citizens (i.e. alignment of perspectives); and attitudes toward nutrition information.Results Trust, perceived benevolence and perceived alignment of perspectives were affected negatively by a proposed sugar tax (-0.24, 95% CI -0.38 to -0.10; -0.15, -0.29 to -0.01; -0.15, -0.30 to 0.00) or product reformulation (-0.32, -0.46 to -0.18; -0.24, -0.37 to -0.11; -0.18, 0.33 to -0.03), particularly among the non-tertiary educated respondents.Conclusions Sugar taxes or product reformulations may delegitimize health-promotion institutions, potentially causing public distancing from or opposition to these bodies. This may be exploited by political and commercial parties to undermine official institutions.Trial registration https://osf.io/qr9jy/?view_only=5e2e875a1fc348f3b28115b7a3fdfd90. Registered 3 February 2022.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberckae013
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

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