What role should government play in discouraging harmful overconsumption? What modes of government intervention best strike the balance between effectiveness and political acceptability? It is well established that government has a legitimate interest in protecting the health and safety of the people, even from their own choices and actions. Furthermore, there is no fundamental right to sell or purchase particular services or products in particular configurations. The appropriate question, then, is not what government may do to prevent noncommunicable diseases that are associated with individual behavior choices, but rather what government should do. This comment on David Friedman’s Public Health Regulation and the Limits of Paternalism focuses on Friedman’s insight that visibility is the key distinction between paternalistic measures like the ban on artificial trans-saturated fats in restaurant food—which have faced very little opposition in spite of adopting a heavy-handed approach—and measures like the “Big Gulp Ban” and the “Happy Meal Ordinance”—which are unpopular and have been strongly opposed by industry in spite of intruding less upon individual autonomy. While the high visibility of these regulations makes them less politically palatable, visibility might also be key to their positive impact— through their influence on social norms about appropriate portion size and balanced meals for small children.
Wiley, Lindsay F., "Sugary Drinks, Happy Meals, Social Norms, and the Law: The Normative Impact of Product Configuration Bans Response" (2014). Connecticut Law Review. 258.