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Obesity, paternalism and fairness
  1. Johannes Kniess
  1. Correspondence to Johannes Kniess, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK; Johannes.kniess{at}


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.

  • Behaviour Modification
  • Public Health Ethics
  • Paternalism
  • Autonomy
  • Political Philosophy

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