Regulating Public Health


  • Identify government intervention aimed at improving health
  • Articulate the purpose of governments intervening in health
  • Discuss the ethics of “nudging” society to be healthier
  • Make lecture more memorable to increase retention

Relevant Clips:


Toward the end of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a policy requiring restaurants to post calorie information on all items sold in the store.  The goal was to provide information to consumers who may be misinformed regarding the number of calories they consume while dining out and end up consuming more calories than dining at home. While Americans proclivity for dining out has been linked to obesity concerns, studies have shown that displaying calorie information has little impact on people’s decisions. If the regulation appears to have little impact on public health, should the government be involved in public health regulation of this variety? The CDC argues that the medical costs of obesity (in 2008 dollars) were estimated to be $147 billion and obesity-related absenteeism ranges between $3.38 billion and $6.38 billion.


The clip “All the Bacon and Eggs” portrays a humorous look at Ron’s love of bacon and eggs after being underwhelmed by the quality of steak at a local diner. This scene from the show is often portrayed (1, 2, b, 4) as one of the best lines from the show:

Just give me all the bacon and eggs you have… Wait. Wait… I’m worried what you just heard was give me a lot of bacon and eggs. What I said was give me all the bacon and eggs you have.

One of the tenets of libertarianism is that people should be allowed to do whatever they wish with their bodies as long as they aren’t hurting other people. In the “Steak, Cigars, and Health Problems” clip, Ron echoes this sentiment that he should be allowed to treat his body as he wishes, without interference, because he is a free American. While calorie displays are more of a nudge than direct government involvement, it borders on the government trying to influence individuals’ decisions of what to eat.

In the “Soda Sizes” scene, a local restaurant chain is offering child sized sodas that are the size of a small child, but Leslie proposes applying a sugar tax on these items to de-incentivize people from consuming so much sugar. In her role as city council member, she questions why anyone would need 512 ounces of soda. While sugar taxes are one way to affect public health, calorie displays are a more indirect form of getting people to change their consumption patterns or for businesses to reconfigure their recipes to lower calories.

Finally, we revisit the issue of nudging for public health concerns. In Nobel Laureates Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge, the authors open with the concept of libertarian paternalism in the concept of designing a school cafeteria to allow students the option of selecting what they want but designing it in such a way that they are led to healthier options. Should the government play an active role in passively guiding citizens to better health? In the final scene, “Steak, Cigars, and Health Problems” Ron discusses how he can eat two steaks, drink whiskey, and smoke a cigar if he chooses. While not incorrect, should the government play a role in passively trying to persuade against such actions? In one episode, a highly caloric and sugary energy bar is being sold in local parks, but Leslie and Ann believe it should be outlawed, a more direct form of government intervention. In “Freedom to Choose,” Ann and Leslie speak at a community forum about the health issues in the energy bars, while Ron reiterates that Americans have a right to be as large as they want.