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Public health nudges: weighing individual liberty and population health benefits
  1. Derek Soled
  1. Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Derek Soled, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA; Derek_soled{at}


Libertarian paternalism describes the idea of nudging—that is, steering individual decision-making while preserving freedom of choice. In medicine, libertarian paternalism has gained widespread attention, specifically with respect to interventions designed to promote healthy behaviours. Some scholars argue that nudges appropriately balance autonomy and paternalistic beneficence, while others argue that nudges inherently exploit cognitive weaknesses. This paper further explores the ethics of libertarian paternalism in public health. The use of nudges may infringe on an individual’s voluntary choice, autonomy and informed consent, but they are ethically justified when there is a clear public health benefit to the manipulation of choice.

  • public health ethics
  • coercion
  • decision-making
  • informed consent
  • public policy

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  • Contributors DS is the sole contributor to this manuscript. He conceptualised the idea and drafted the piece.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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