Ethics and obesity prevention: ethical considerations in 3 approaches to reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages

Am J Public Health. 2014 May;104(5):787-95. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301708. Epub 2014 Mar 13.


Obesity and overweight prevalence soared to unprecedented levels in the United States, with 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children currently categorized as obese. Although many approaches have been taken to encourage individual behavior change, policies increasingly attempt to modify environments to have a more positive influence on individuals' food and drink choices. Several policy proposals target sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), consumption of which has become the largest contributor to Americans' caloric intake. Yet proposals have been criticized for unduly inhibiting choice, being overly paternalistic, and stigmatizing low-income populations. We explored the ethical acceptability of 3 approaches to reduce SSB consumption: restricting sale of SSBs in public schools, levying significant taxes on SSBs, and prohibiting the use of Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) benefits for SSB purchases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Beverages*
  • Dietary Sucrose*
  • Food Assistance / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health / ethics
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Schools / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Taxes / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United States


  • Dietary Sucrose