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State power and breastfeeding promotion: A critique

Abstract

State-sponsored breastfeeding promotion campaigns have become increasingly common in developed countries. In this article, by using the tools of liberal political theory, as well as public health and health promotion ethics, we argue that such campaigns are not justified. They ignore important costs for women, including undermining autonomy, fail to distribute burdens fairly, cannot be justified neutrally and fail a basic efficacy test. Moreover, our argument demonstrates that breastfeeding campaigns are a rare case that bridges the fields of public health ethics (which focuses on coercive measures to protect third parties) and the ethics of health promotion campaigns (which focuses on encouraging voluntary change that benefits the target individuals themselves). This demonstrates the need to consider the ethics of state promotion of both voluntary and coercive behavioural change that benefits third parties.

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Correspondence to Lina Eriksson.

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Balint, P., Eriksson, L. & Torresi, T. State power and breastfeeding promotion: A critique. Contemp Polit Theory 17, 306–330 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-017-0158-3

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Keywords

  • breastfeeding
  • liberalism
  • autonomy
  • gender equality
  • public health ethics
  • ethics of health promotion