Personal Responsibility Among Adolescents

Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date


Publication Title

Health Affairs






The article by Kelly D. Brownell and coauthors (Mar 2010) on personal responsibility and obesity is very thought-provoking and instructional. We agree with the authors that “personal responsibility can be embraced as a value by placing priority on legislative and regulatory actions” and that “creating conditions that foster and support personal responsibility is central to public health.” However, we have a different interpretation of the figures cited by the authors to deny claims that responsibility is declining.

Without factoring out the confounding effects from collective efforts, the cited figures neither support nor deny the claim of declining responsibility. We believe that the drop in intercourse without condoms is attributable to the effectiveness of sexuality education programs, increased societal acceptance of contraceptives, and the availability of condoms, rather than to an improved sense of personal responsibility among adolescents. Similarly, media campaigns about the consequences of not wearing a seat belt or riding with an impaired driver should receive credit for declines in these behaviors, as should initiatives by police departments and highway patrols to penalize the behaviors. Although the choice to make the healthy decision remains, the motivation is different.

Anecdotally, more and more people are abusing their personal freedom under the influence of the increasing and ubiquitous temptations of modern society. More and more people are texting behind the wheel. Denying that fact might only help people find someone else to hold accountable for their risky behavior and lead to further abuse of personal freedom, undermining the effectiveness of policy interventions and, in the long run, jeopardizing our good-faith efforts.