Utility and justice in public health

MacKay, Kathryn (2018) Utility and justice in public health. Journal of Public Health, 40 (3). e413-e418. ISSN 1741-3842

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Background Many public health practitioners and organizations view themselves as engaged in the promotion or achievement of equity. However, discussions around public health frequently assume that practitioners and policy-makers take a utilitarian approach to this work. Methods I argue that public health is better understood as a social justice endeavor. I begin by presenting the utility view of public health and then discuss the equity view. This is a theoretical argument, which should help public health to justify interventions for communicable and non-communicable diseases equally, and which contributes to breaking down the ‘old/new’ public health divide. Results This argument captures practitioners’ views of the work they are engaged in and allows for the moral and policy justification of important interventions in communicable and non-communicable diseases. Systemic interventions are necessary to remedy high rates of disease among certain groups and, generally, to improve the health of entire populations. Conclusions By viewing diseases as partly the result of failures of health protective systems in society, public health may justify interventions in communicable and non-communicable diseases equally. Public health holds a duty to improve the health of the worst-off in society; by prioritizing this group, the health of the whole community may improve.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Public Health
Additional Information:
This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Public Health following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Kathryn MacKay; Utility and justice in public health, Journal of Public Health, Volume 40, Issue 3, 1 September 2018, Pages e413–e418, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdx169 is available online at: https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/40/3/e413/4721790
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? chronic diseaseethicssocial determinantsmedicine(all) ??
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Deposited On:
24 Nov 2017 02:01
Last Modified:
31 Dec 2023 00:52