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Public Health Measures Should Protect

Public Health Measures Should Protect

A recent survey that polled 2,200 American adults found mixed results when it comes to current or proposed laws aimed at protecting the health and wellbeing of the public.  Respondents were asked to the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with 14 such measures.

Many of the measures were supported by the majority of respondents.  These included laws that require drivers to wear seatbelts, and motorcyclist and bicyclists to wear helmets.  The majority also supported a ban on texting while driving and smoking in restaurants.

When it came to measures related to nutrition, respondents supported requiring restaurants to reveal the nutrition information of their foods on their menus, as well as the elimination of trans fat in restaurants.

However, a majority of respondents opposed the citing of obesity and smoking by employers as reasons for not hiring a candidate, and a tax on soda.

At first glance, these results seem a bit random.  But on further observation, there appears to be a common thread of logic linking the respondents’ answers to these questions.  The measures relating to road safety likely gained support because they make the road safer for everyone.  Similarly, prohibiting smoking in restaurants protects the health of everyone present.  The nutrition-related measures make it easier for individuals to make informed decisions.  And the measures that were largely opposed likely gained little support because they infringe upon an individual’s freedom to make his or her own decisions – even if those decisions are unwise.

It seems, therefore, that respondents feel individuals should have the right to make their own decisions when it comes to their health and safety, without being penalized – unless their decisions affect others, in which case greater regulation is tolerated.

This link of thinking, however, should be taken a step further.  If this poll is any indication, the majority of Americans feel that an individual’s behavior may be regulated if it has a negative impact upon the health or safety of others.  Why not apply the same logic to corporations?

Perhaps we should not tax individuals for purchasing a soda, for example, because that is in individual choice that only impacts the health of the consumer making the purchase.  However, it would be beneficial to prohibit corporations like Coca Cola and Pepsi from adding harmful substances like corn syrup to that soda.

The difference is, when Coca Cola and Pepsi make poor decisions in terms of public health – like choosing to use corn syrup – they profit from it.  Individuals should have the right to protect their own health or not.  But corporations should not be allowed to use coercive marketing practices to push their products onto the public and then profit from selling a product that negatively impacts the health of millions of people.  This is the logic being demonstrated in the survey.  If a decision only impacts the health or safety of the person making that decision, then that action should not be prohibited.  But if a decision stands to negatively impact the health or safety of others, it should be regulated.


Read more: Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, General Health, Health

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


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1:36PM PDT on Sep 22, 2015

Thank you Sarah.

8:12PM PDT on Mar 25, 2012

Interesting results.

7:33AM PDT on Mar 25, 2012

Great article

1:25PM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

beautiful connections drawn, great article

9:48AM PDT on Mar 24, 2012

I agree with Judith that our government should protect it's people against unethical practices and products that an individual cannot on their own protect themselves from, BUT, there needs to be distintions made between chemical laden factory farming and organic farming, the very large, impersonal type farming whether organic or not, and small farms.Perception of the level of risk is important, so keeping many clearly defined options opened, whether it be in food choices or health care [alternative/main stream western medicine] is important.One size does not fit all. But honesty of ingredients and production methods need to be part of the advertiseing and making sure places are fallowing their own stated standards would go along way to re-establishing trust in our government and our businesses.

4:39AM PDT on Mar 23, 2012

WOW...good point!!

6:39PM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

Public health measures should protect US, not BIG BIZ. When did they stop caring about
We The People? When MONEY started coming into it?

10:59AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012


7:06AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

I aree with Diane. The laws are discriminatory and have little to do with public concern and more to do with who influences the lawmakers. The people in the survey are being illogical when it comes to saying that seat belts and helmets are for public safety. They affect the individual driver and help insurance companies keep medical costs down. It's just that the public has come to accept the spin created to convince them that their well being is important. If the public is convinced laws that infringe upon freedom of choice are for the greater good, it will accept without question.

I, for one, believe a government's job is to protect the citizens from the unethical systems, industries and forces that individuals cannot stand against on their own; things that threaten our ability to live freely and prosper as individuals. Our government can inform me of what may be a better choice but it has no right to force me to make it it because the data it draws upon is not absolute and I should have the right to risk and deal with the consequences.

6:39AM PDT on Mar 22, 2012

I agree with most of these measures as some parents wouldn't strap their kids in a car if they weren't forced to. They would feed their kids sugary foods and fast foods because they aren't educated enough to know better. If they tax cigarettes because of health reasons, they need to tax candy, processed food, soda, meat and dairy for the same reasons. I think they are discriminating against one company and letting others off scott free - probably because those in congress are getting kickbacks from the dairy and ranchers associations.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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