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Exercise prescription and the doctor’s duty of non-maleficence

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-12-09, 16:52 authored by Jonathan Pugh, Christopher J. A. Pugh, Julian Savulescu


An abundance of data unequivocally demonstrates that exercise can be an effective tool in the fight against obesity and its associated comorbidities.1 Indeed, physical activity can be more effective than widely used pharmaceutical interventions. While metformin reduces the incidence of diabetes by 31% (as compared with a placebo) in both men and women across different racial and ethnic groups, lifestyle intervention (including exercise) reduces the incidence by 58%.2

In this context, it is notable that a group of prominent medics and exercise scientists recently sent a well-publicised letter to the General Medical Council (GMC) and Medical Schools Council calling for the introduction of evidence-based lifestyle education into all medical curricula.3 The letter warns that there is a lack of understanding of the impact that exercise and nutrition can have on physical health among doctors. In the absence of an educational overhaul, the signatories warn that the government is likely to fail to reach its goal of preventing tens of thousands of premature deaths from heart disease and cancer by 2020.

While we agree with the need to address this apparent lack of understanding, the ethical justification of doing so is not limited to this broadly beneficence-based justification. There is also a justification grounded in the duty of non-maleficence, that is, the duty to avoid unreasonable harm to patients.


Published in

British Journal of Sports Medicine




  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)


Pugh, J., Pugh, C. and Savulescu, J. (2017) 'Exercise prescription and the doctor’s duty of non-maleficence', British Journal of Sports Medicine. 51 (21), pp.1555-1556

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

Christopher Pugh

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Cardiovascular Physiology

Copyright Holder

  • © The Publisher


  • en

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