The use of persuasion in public health communication: An ethical critique

John Rossi, Michael Yudell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Public health communications often attempt to persuade their audience to adopt a particular belief or pursue a particular course of action. To a large extent, the ethical defensibility of persuasion appears to be assumed by public health practitioners; however, a handful of academic treatments have called into question the ethical defensibility of persuasive risk- and health communication. In addition, the widespread use of persuasive tactics in public health communications warrants a close look at their ethical status, irrespective of previous critiques. In this article, we review some ethical objections previously advanced against the use of persuasion in public health communications, and also consider some novel but potentially relevant objections. We conclude that persuasion is ethically problematic in some circumstances and attempt to clarify what these circumstances are. However, whereas persuasion may be ethically problematic in some circumstances, it need not be viewed as intrinsically problematic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-205
Number of pages14
JournalPublic Health Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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