Public Policy Versus Individual Rights and Responsibility

An Economist's Perspective

Interventions to reduce childhood obesity entail ethical considerations. Although a rationale exists for government to intervene in a way that limits individual rights while protecting the public’s health, a clear economic rationale also exists. The markets for goods and services that contribute to obesity are characterized by multiple failures that create an economic rationale for government to intervene (e.g., consumers’ lack of accurate information regarding estrogenic foods and beverages). If effective public policies for reducing obesity and its consequences are to be developed and implemented, individual rights and government interests must be balanced.

This article highlights ideas generated and conclusions reached at the Symposium on Ethical Issues in Interventions for Childhood Obesity, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Data for Solutions, Inc.