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Clustering of attitudes towards obesity: a mixed methods study of Australian parents and children

Tim Olds1*, Samantha Thomas2, Sophie Lewis3 and John Petkov1

Author Affiliations

1 Health and Use of Time (HUT) Group, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, 5001 Adelaide, SA, Australia

2 School of Health and Society, Bldg 234 (iC Enterprise 1), Innovation Campus, University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, 2522 Wollongong, NSW, Australia

3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Cumberland Campus, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:117  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-117

Published: 12 October 2013



Current population-based anti-obesity campaigns often target individuals based on either weight or socio-demographic characteristics, and give a ‘mass’ message about personal responsibility. There is a recognition that attempts to influence attitudes and opinions may be more effective if they resonate with the beliefs that different groups have about the causes of, and solutions for, obesity. Limited research has explored how attitudinal factors may inform the development of both upstream and downstream social marketing initiatives.


Computer-assisted face-to-face interviews were conducted with 159 parents and 184 of their children (aged 9–18 years old) in two Australian states. A mixed methods approach was used to assess attitudes towards obesity, and elucidate why different groups held various attitudes towards obesity. Participants were quantitatively assessed on eight dimensions relating to the severity and extent, causes and responsibility, possible remedies, and messaging strategies. Cluster analysis was used to determine attitudinal clusters. Participants were also able to qualify each answer. Qualitative responses were analysed both within and across attitudinal clusters using a constant comparative method.


Three clusters were identified. Concerned Internalisers (27% of the sample) judged that obesity was a serious health problem, that Australia had among the highest levels of obesity in the world and that prevalence was rapidly increasing. They situated the causes and remedies for the obesity crisis in individual choices. Concerned Externalisers (38% of the sample) held similar views about the severity and extent of the obesity crisis. However, they saw responsibility and remedies as a societal rather than an individual issue. The final cluster, the Moderates, which contained significantly more children and males, believed that obesity was not such an important public health issue, and judged the extent of obesity to be less extreme than the other clusters.


Attitudinal clusters provide new information and insights which may be useful in tailoring anti-obesity social marketing initiatives.

Obesity; Attitudes; Adults; Adolescents; Family; Social marketing