Contemporary Political Theory

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 306–330 | Cite as

State power and breastfeeding promotion: A critique

  • Peter Balint
  • Lina ErikssonEmail author
  • Tiziana Torresi


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.


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


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNSW CanberraCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden and Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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