Responsibility, prudence and health promotion.
Brown, RCH, Maslen, H, Savulescu, J
Journal of public health (Oxford, England)
This article considers the role of responsibility in public health promotion. Efforts to tackle non-communicable diseases which focus on changing individual behaviour and reducing risk factor exposure sometimes invoke individual responsibility for adopting healthy lifestyles. We provide a critical discussion of this tendency. First, we outline some key distinctions in the philosophical literature on responsibility, and indicate how responsibility is incorporated into health promotion policies in the UK. We argue that the use of some forms of responsibility in health promotion is inappropriate. We present an alternative approach to understanding how individuals can 'take responsibility' for their health, based on the concept of prudence (i.e. acting in one's interests). In this discussion, we do not prescribe or proscribe specific health promotion policies. Rather, we encourage public health professionals to consider how underlying assumptions (in this case, relating to responsibility) can shape health promotion policy, and how alternative framings (such as a shift from encouraging individual responsibility to facilitating prudence) may justify different kinds of action, for instance, shaping environments to make healthy behaviours easier, rather than using education as a tool to encourage responsible behaviour.