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Obesity, Paternalism and Fairness

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Johannes Kniess



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by BMJ Publishing Group, 2015.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Many liberal theories are committed to the promotion of population health, and the principle of non-interference in individual life plans. Public health interventions often bring out a tension between these two values. In this paper, I examine this tension by assessing the justifiability of liberty-restricting policies in the field of obesity prevention. As I want to show, a ‘soft’ form of paternalism, which interferes with people's choices to safeguard their true interests, goes some way in justifying such policies, but it leaves unaddressed the problem of limiting the liberty of those whose true interest is in pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle. I argue that in this latter case, the key to reconcile the promotion of population health with the respect for individual liberty is distributive justice: when we cannot help those who care about their health without doing the same for those who do not, fairness will often require us to do so.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kniess J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Medical Ethics

Year: 2015

Volume: 41

Issue: 11

Pages: 889-892

Print publication date: 22/10/2015

Online publication date: 17/08/2015

Acceptance date: 29/07/2015

Date deposited: 25/11/2019

ISSN (print): 0306-6800

ISSN (electronic): 1473-4257

Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102537


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