American women are skeptical about government’s ability to positively influence our living habits, according to a recent poll by the Independent Women’s Forum. Twice as many women believe that government’s efforts will be useless or counterproductive than believe they will be succeed at encouraging healthier choices.

Yet even this finding may overstate what women believe government should be doing on our behalf. That’s because women often have only a small part of the story when it comes to health information. 

Take salt and attitudes toward the government’s role in trying to encourage Americans to reduce their salt intake. In the IWF poll, women were asked whether they believed government should tax salt to discourage its use, regulate the amount of salt that can be included in food products, or do nothing. American women were about split on whether government should take action: 46 percent were for regulations, 5 percent for taxes, and 46 percent wanted government to do nothing. 

Given that Americans have recently been bombarded with alarmist headlines blaming excess salt consumption for millions of deaths, it’s pretty amazing that only about half of American women see a role for government in regulating salt.

And when IWF asked that questions again, with the preface that “new research on the topic has questioned the relationship between salt intake and cardiovascular (heart) disease,” just 29 percent of women agreed with the statement: “Government still should try to reduce how much salt and sodium people eat” while 52 percent said, “It is best to wait to study the issue more before the government reduces how much salt and sodium people eat.”

In other words, support for government intervention fell by about 40 percent when women knew that the science of salt isn’t settled. And in fact, this question could have included much stronger cautions about the health impact of attempts to reduce salt intake. Some researchers believe that it might not just be unnecessary for a large segment of the population to reduce their salt intake, it may actually be bad for them in terms of their health. Government-recommended levels of sodium may actually be too low for some, causing health problems, and attempting to rid sodium from one’s diet could encourage over-eating of other foods.

Responsible media and public officials who actually want to encourage better health outcomes for Americans should keep this in mind. While Americans distrust both the media and politicians, the information they have does have an impact on their support for policies.