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By Karen Kaplan

Los Angeles Times

Does the government have a role to play in preventing childhood obesity, helping smokers quit and heading off chronic diseases including cancer and heart disease?

Yes, according to a recent survey published by the journal Health Affairs.

Two health policy experts from Harvard University wanted to find out how the public was responding to what they called “new frontier” public health initiatives aimed at changing consumer behavior, such as New York City’s ban on super-sized sodas, which recently was struck down in court.

After all, they noted, the three leading causes of death among Americans in 2000 were all behavior-related.

Tobacco use contributed to 18.1 percent of deaths that year; poor diet and exercise habits played a role in 16.6 percent of deaths; and alcohol was a factor in 3.5 percent of deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An online survey of 1,817 Americans asked about a variety of public policy options:

• There was broad support for preventing cancer (89 percent were in favor), heart disease (86 percent), obesity in children (81 percent) and adults (76 percent).

• There also was broad support for preventing and reducing tobacco use (76 percent) and reducing alcohol consumption (70 percent).

• 84 percent agreed that the government should help people with diabetes control their disease.

• 84 percent said the government should help make fruits and vegetables more affordable.

• 81 percent liked the idea of requiring restaurants to post the calorie counts for food they serve.

• 88 percent believe kids should get at least 45 minutes of phys ed each day.