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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Boston University School of Law




Non-communicable and chronic diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the major causes of death and disability around the world. Despite recognition that reduction in the chronic disease burden will require governance systems to address the social determinants of health, most public health recommendations emphasize individual behavior as the primary cause of illness and the target of intervention. This Article argues that focusing on lifestyle can backfire, by increasing health inequities and inviting human rights violations. If States fail to take meaningful steps to alter the social and economic structures that create health risks and encourage unhealthy behavior, health at the population level is unlikely to improve significantly. Viewing the global health challenges from the perspective of human rights reveals opportunities for positive change in all sectors of governance. Explicit recognition of human rights can help refocus attention on the fundamental causes of health and protect individuals from unnecessary harm.

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