Promoting Justice and Autonomy in Public Policies to Reduce the Health Consequences of Obesity


Public policies to reduce the extent of obesity in the United States have generated considerable public controversy. The paper examines the implications of proposed policies for the principles of justice and autonomy and key assumptions underlying the major contending positions with respect to the relative weight that should be assigned to them in balancing their respective claims. The analysis traces the crux of the debate regarding the ethical warrant for policies to restrict access to calorie-dense foodstuffs to two key issues: the appeal to different and conflicting theories of justice, and the conflation of autonomy with negative liberty in public debates. After clarifying the ethically relevant characteristics of autonomy that merit defense, the paper concludes with a description of how the capabilities approach to justice may offer a more coherent ethical framework for developing and evaluating policies to address the current obesity epidemic.