Should we hold the obese responsible? - some key issues

Morten Ebbe Juul Nielsen, Martin Marchman Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


It is a common belief that obesity is wholly or partially a question of personal choice and personal responsibility. It is also widely assumed that when individuals are responsible for some unfortunate state of affairs, society bears no burden to compensate them. This article focuses on two conceptualizations of responsibility: backward-looking and forward-looking conceptualizations. When ascertaining responsibility in a backward-looking sense, one has to determine how that state of affairs came into being or where the agent stood in relation to it. In contrast, a forward-looking conceptualization of responsibility puts aside questions of the past and holds a person responsible by reference to some desirable future state of affairs and will typically mean that he or she is subjected to criticism, censure, or other negative appraisals or that he or she is held cost-responsible in some form, for example, in terms of demanded compensation, loss of privileges, or similar. One example of this view is the debate as to whether the obese should be denied, wholly or partially, free and equal access to healthcare, not because they are somehow personally responsible in the backward-looking sense but simply because holding the obese responsible will have positive consequences. Taking these two conceptions of responsibility into account, the authors turn their analysis toward examining the relevant moral considerations to be taken into account when public policies regarding obesity rely on such a conception of responsibility.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCambridge quarterly of healthcare ethics
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)443-451
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


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