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A dilemma in public health ethics is dealing with the conflict between individual rights and maximizing right to health. Public health is justified by consequentialist utilitarian ideas, but is constrained and critiqued by liberal, deontological, principlist and libertarian philosophies. Stephen Holland argues that it can be easy to find a particular framework to justify any viewpoint on public health issues, but that the correct approach is to find a framework that best describes a situation and see what it implies about public health policy. 

The definition of health is vague and there are many conceptualizations. Public health practitioners definition of health can differ markedly from members of the public or clinicians. This can mean that members of the public view the values behind public health interventions as alien which can cause resentment amongst the public towards certain interventions. Such vagueness can be a problem for health promotion. Critics have argued that public health tends to place more focus on individual factors associated with health at the expense of factors operating at the population level.