Social Justice, Health Inequalities and Methodological Individualism in US Health Promotion

Public Health Ethics 5 (2):104-115 (2012)
This article asserts that traditionally dominant models of health promotion in the US are fairly characterized by methodological individualism. This schema produces a focus on the individual as the node of intervention. Such emphasis results in a number of scientific and ethical problems. I identify three principal ethical deficiencies: first, the health promotions used are generally ineffective, which violates canons of distributive justice because scarce health resources are expended on interventions that are unlikely to produce health benefits. Second, the health promotions used tend to expand health inequalities between the affluent and the least well-off. Third, the health promotions used are likely to intensify stigma against the least well-off, a deficiency that itself may exacerbate the ‘densely-woven patterns of disadvantage’ that characterize life on the tail of the social gradient. Because Powers and Faden’s health sufficiency model of social justice argues that the amelioration of such clusters of disadvantage should be the primary ethical goal of public health policy, methodologically individualist models of health promotion are ethically deficient and should not stand as primary approaches for health promotion in a just social order
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DOI 10.1093/phe/phs013
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