Food Ethics

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

Proportionality in Public Health Regulation: The Case of Dietary Supplements

  • David B. ResnikEmail author
Research Article


The idea that the degree of infringement public health interventions have on individual rights should be proportional to the degree of expected benefits has emerged as an influential principle in public health ethics and policy. While proportionality makes sense in theory, it may be difficult to implement in practice, due to the inherent conflict between individual rights and the common good underlying the principle. To apply the proportionality principle to a decision of policy, one must still find a reasonable way of balancing these competing values in light of the available options and empirical evidence. In this article, I consider how the proportionality principle applies to the regulation of dietary supplements and examine some critiques of the current oversight system. I argue that it may be difficult maintain proportional oversight because the risks of dietary supplements vary considerably. Strengthening the regulations may therefore promote an appropriate level of regulation in some cases but lead to overregulation in others.


Dietary supplements Public health Safety Regulation Proportionality Ethics Consumer choice 



This research was supported by the Intramural Program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH). It does not represent the views of the NIEHS, NIH, or US government. I am grateful to Bruce Androphy, Mark Miller, Shepherd Schurman and Mary Wolfe for helpful comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesNational Institutes of HealthDurhamUSA

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