Personal responsibility and obesity: a constructive approach to a controversial issue

Health Aff (Millwood). Mar-Apr 2010;29(3):379-87. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0739.


The concept of personal responsibility has been central to social, legal, and political approaches to obesity. It evokes language of blame, weakness, and vice and is a leading basis for inadequate government efforts, given the importance of environmental conditions in explaining high rates of obesity. These environmental conditions can override individual physical and psychological regulatory systems that might otherwise stand in the way of weight gain and obesity, hence undermining personal responsibility, narrowing choices, and eroding personal freedoms. Personal responsibility can be embraced as a value by placing priority on legislative and regulatory actions such as improving school nutrition, menu labeling, altering industry marketing practices, and even such controversial measures as the use of food taxes that create healthier defaults, thus supporting responsible behavior and bridging the divide between views based on individualistic versus collective responsibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Population Surveillance
  • United States
  • Weight Gain*