Bioethics Forum

Is the State Responsible for a Healthy Nutrition?

Palais am Festungsgraben, Am Festungsgraben 1, 10117 Berlin


The number of overweight and adipose (obese) people has increased sharply worldwide in the last 20 years. In Germany, almost 60 % of adults and 15 % of children and adolescents are overweight or adipose. Taking additionally into account the number of underweight young people, which amounts to 7 %, almost a quarter of children and adolescents in Germany are malnourished.

The consequences that arise for society are serious. The increase in diseases caused by an unbalanced diet has spawned a number of private initiatives and prompted the Federal Government to launch the national action plan “IN FORM – Deutschlands Initiative für gesunde Ernährung und mehr Bewegung” (“IN FORM – Germany’s Initiative for Healthy Nutrition and More Physical Activity”).

The right to food was already enshrined in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights in 1948. However, it is not defined whether this right refers solely to sufficient nutrition or also to a balanced, healthy diet.

Against this background, many questions arise, first and foremost ethical ones:

  • Who bears the responsibility for a balanced diet – individuals or society?
  • What if individuals cannot afford a healthy diet?
  • Does the state have an ethical obligation to ensure adequate nutrition, especially for children?

Prof. Dr. Hans Konrad Biesalski from the University of Hohenheim gives an introduction to the topic. The issues of nutritional science are then discussed in greater depth with Dr. Gerd Müller, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Sabine Werth, founder and chairwoman of the Berliner Tafel (Berlin Food Bank), and Sarah Wiener, initiator of the Sarah Wiener foundation that campaigns “Für gesunde Kinder und was Vernünftiges zu essen” (“For healthy children and good food”). The audience is also invited to join the discussion. Prof. Dr. Dr. Eckhard Nagel, member of the German Ethics Council, chairs the event.