Obesity Policy and Welfare

Public Affairs Quarterly 33 (2):115-136 (2019)
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Abstract

Governments can try to counter obesity through preventive regulations such as sugar taxes, which appear to raise costs or reduce options for consumers. Would the regulations improve the welfare of adult consumers? The regulations might improve choice sets through a mechanism such as reformulation, but the scope for such improvement is limited. Otherwise, a paternalistic argument must be made that preventive regulations would improve welfare despite reducing choice. This paper connects arguments about obesity, health, and choice to a philosophically plausible view of welfare. On the negative side, two errors to avoid are failing to see the limited value of health and thinking that findings of irrationality would alone settle arguments about welfare. On the positive side, preventive regulations could make people better-off if welfare is the satisfaction of preferences and if preventive regulations could better satisfy preferences by overcoming certain forms of irrationality. The leading evidence is from widespread attempts to lose weight. However, at least for the United States, most adults are not trying to lose weight, and that casts doubt on whether they would benefit from preventive regulations. If they would not, that seems a strong albeit not decisive reason against these regulations.

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Obesity, equity and choice.Timothy M. Wilkinson - 2019 - Journal of Medical Ethics 45 (5):323-328.
Obesity, paternalism and fairness.Johannes Kniess - 2015 - Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (11):889-892.

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