Lifestyle diseases: Responsibility and Ethics - Helsinki 11 -12 June 2018

Non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as arteriosclerotic vascular disease, heart diseases and stroke, osteoporosis and Type II diabetes, are associated with certain behavioral choices and ways of living. According to Eurostat and the WHO, life expectancy in Europe is currently decreasing due to smoking, drinking and obesity.

The massive evidence on the ways in which NCDs can be prevented and treated by citizens’ lifestyle adjustments has come to orient the ways in which their prevalence and harm are regulated in societies. However, a rigorous appliance of such a scheme is known to involve also some ethical dilemmas.

The aim of this conference is to address the new emphasis on the individual’s responsibility and choices in view of collectivist health policies and solidary-based welfare systems. It strives at unfolding the concept of lifestyle disease and its interaction with ethical dimensions of governance. There is a need to address these questions in view of the in the Nordic welfare state ethos’ strong principles pertaining to institutional collectivism, inclusion and universalist principles of service provision.

The conference will, to begin with, address the current health situation in Europe with regards to lifestyle-related diseases. What are their root causes and political implications?

Second, the conference provides a forum for public health and social science research to discuss ethical considerations surrounding lifestyle-related disease and its governance principles in the Nordics and elsewhere. These include aspects of how to address responsibility (individual vs. society), as well as the role of corporate behaviour in corruption of health and well-being. Examples are presented from the fields of alcohol, drugs and gambling in order to highlight the ways in which poor health choices are attached to an individualized health agenda, and influenced by neoliberal policies and corporate power. Moderating intake of fat, sugar and salt is also presented as cases in point.

The event will end with a panel discussion concerning the existing and possible instruments for influencing people’s lifestyles in contemporary Nordic welfare societies. The fiscal interests related to consumption of addictive products are high, and politics catering for interests of alcohol, food, and gambling industry all stress individual responsibility (“responsible” consumption).

The conference is targeted at academics, policy makers, industry representatives, public health professionals, and the general public. It is free of charge, but participants cover their own travel and accommodation.

Venue: Unioininkatu Juhlahuoneisto (Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki City Center)

The event will relate to the NcBio -conference “Hard Choices 2.0” in Stockholm in November 2017, by looking at the other side of the coin, namely the one of reaching a further understanding of the concept of lifestyle disease and its relationship to concepts such as the one of addiction.


Monday 11 June 

A. Lifestyle-related diseases: What is the ethical landscape?

13:00-13:05 Welcome / Director of NordForsk Dr. Arne Flåøyen

13:05-13:15 Introduction / Chair of the Nordic Bioethics Committee Prof. Ingemar Engström

13:15-14:00 “Lifestyle-related diseases as a challenge to public health systems” (Prof. Kirsi Pietiläinen, Director of the Obesity Unit, Helsinki-Uusimaa Hospital District, Finland)

14:00-14:30 “Are we responsible for our lifestyle choices? – Philosophical reflections” (Lecturer Morten Ebbe Juul Nielsen, “Governing obesity” -project, University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

14:30-15:00 Coffee 

B. Nordic governmental interventions I: Ethical and societal implications

15:00-15:30 “Changes in lifestyle governance due to social and health field reorganization in the Nordics” (Research Director Matilda Hellman, CEACG, University of Helsinki, Finland)

15:30-16:00 “Nudging in the Nordic countries - what is it and is it ethical?” (Prof. Kalle Grill, Umeå, Sweden)

16:00-16:30 “What can we prohibit in liberal countries: example of beer ban in Iceland” (Prof. Helgi Gunnlaugson, University of Iceland)

16:30-17:00 Discussion  

Tuesday 12 June

C. Nordic governmental interventions II: Ethical and societal implications

09:00-09:30 “Tobacco endgame - Swedish style” (Prof. Ingemar Engström, Örebro University, Sweden)

09:30-10:00 “Cannabis/drug use - health impacts and policy concerns” (Senior Researcher Jasmina Burdzovic, FIH/Oslo, Norway)  

10.00-10.30 Coffee 

10.30-11:00 “Nutrition recommendations, responsible consumers and lazy gluttons – who is responsible for healthy eating” (Prof. Pia Jallinoja, University of Tampere, Finland)

11:00-11:30 “Diet and physical activity programs in schools: lessons learnt” - (Prof. Nanna Lien, University of Oslo, Norway)  

Lunch 11:30-12:30 

D. Responsibility of an individual / corporations / society?

12:30-13.00 “Will there ever be “responsible” consumption of alcohol?” (Former Director of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health / Chair of the Research Council of Systembolaget [Swedish Alcohol Monopoly] Maria Renström, Sweden)

13:00-13:30 “Gorging in Dworkin: Corporate freedom and individual responsibility” (Prof. Christopher Newdick, University of Reading, UK)

13:30-14:00 “Saturated society: regulating lifestyles in consumer capitalism” (Prof. emeritus Pekka Sulkunen, University of Helsinki, Finland)


14:00 Panel discussion: Public health or personal health? 

Panelists: Speakers / TBA


15:00 Closing and Departure