An overview of ethical frameworks in public health: can they be supportive in the evaluation of programs to prevent overweight?

BMC Public Health. 2010 Oct 22;10:638. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-638.


Background: The prevention of overweight sometimes raises complex ethical questions. Ethical public health frameworks may be helpful in evaluating programs or policy for overweight prevention. We give an overview of the purpose, form and contents of such public health frameworks and investigate to which extent they are useful for evaluating programs to prevent overweight and/or obesity.

Methods: Our search for frameworks consisted of three steps. Firstly, we asked experts in the field of ethics and public health for the frameworks they were aware of. Secondly, we performed a search in Pubmed. Thirdly, we checked literature references in the articles on frameworks we found. In total, we thus found six ethical frameworks. We assessed the area on which the available ethical frameworks focus, the users they target at, the type of policy or intervention they propose to address, and their aim. Further, we looked at their structure and content, that is, tools for guiding the analytic process, the main ethical principles or values, possible criteria for dealing with ethical conflicts, and the concrete policy issues they are applied to.

Results: All frameworks aim to support public health professionals or policymakers. Most of them provide a set of values or principles that serve as a standard for evaluating policy. Most frameworks articulate both the positive ethical foundations for public health and ethical constraints or concerns. Some frameworks offer analytic tools for guiding the evaluative process. Procedural guidelines and concrete criteria for solving important ethical conflicts in the particular area of the prevention of overweight or obesity are mostly lacking.

Conclusions: Public health ethical frameworks may be supportive in the evaluation of overweight prevention programs or policy, but seem to lack practical guidance to address ethical conflicts in this particular area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Professional
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Program Evaluation*
  • Public Health / ethics*