Friday, 4 January 2019

Why can’t they just leave us alone?

Between Christmas and New Year, the Daily Telegraph reported how Public Health England were urging the government to impose strict maximum calorie limits on a huge range of common dishes eaten out of the home. Now, as I have argued before, while there may be practical difficulties in achieving it, there isn’t really any objection in principle to providing calorie information. However, this goes far beyond that to represent an unprecedented intrusion into the minutiae of people’s everyday actions, and something that is not mirrored in any other country.

There’s a huge list of practical problems with this. For a start, it’s a blanket, one size fits all solution that does not take account of people’s hugely different dietary requirements. Someone doing hard manual work (and there are still a few about) will need far more calories than a sparrow-like maiden aunt. There’s nothing to stop people ordering two meals if they don’t think that one is enough. And how does it deal with self-service buffets, or the growing trend for tapas-style menus with a variety of “small plate” dishes?

It must also be remembered that, in recent years, there has been a marked reduction in the average amount of calories consumed per person. If we are indeed as a society becoming more obese (which is less clear-cut than often supposed), then it is due to doing less, not eating more.

Not surprisingly, there was a chorus of protest in response to this news. Surely, you might think, there would be tremendous political mileage for any party prepared to call a halt on the ever-growing tendency to want to micromanage every aspect of people’s daily lives. Why can’t people be treated like responsible adults and left alone to make their own decisions?

But the problem is, as I have often said, that people in general do not identify any commonality of interest with others whose freedom is being infringed. I may be outraged that my ability to do this is being curbed, but I will cheer on when whatever that other dirty, irresponsible scumbag does is banned. As long as people to continue to view things within their own particular silo, it will continue happening.

It all started, of course, with the campaign against tobacco. And how many people welcomed that, and flatly denied that it represented the start of a slippery slope?

31 comments:

  1. I fully agree with you. Irrespective of practical enforcement issues, it's wrong to excercise this degree of control on peoples'livrs and choices. At most, requiring statements of calorie content is enough. What is next is mandating the calorie and alcohol content of the alcohol pubs and supermarkets sell. Abd, then what? This is anti-democratic in my view and needs to be rethought.

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  2. Apologies for the typos, writing this on the run.

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  3. The answer is mainly I think that the health/temperance lobby has now become an industry, one which employs lots of middle-class professionals (doctors, scientists, PR people) and, as well as providing them with high salaries, enables them to exercise their censoriousness towards working-class people while at the same time feeling that they are somehow helping them, an attitude that goes back to Victorian paternalism towards the poor, and also to the Nonconformist/Puritan distate for people having fun.

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    1. Yes, they go on about the power of "Big Tobacco/Food/Alcohol/Soda" etc, but in reality they have now become a multi-million pound industry in their own right who have in practice far more money to spend on political lobbying.

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    2. I Have just read Christopher Snowden's book "Kill Joys: a critique of paternalism" in which he critically examines both the moral imperative behind these ideas and the dishonest about the way they are put forward. Leans a bit too heavily on J S Mill but, apart from that, an eyeopener. One good example is the way PHE complain how the alcohol industry, by extensive advertising encourages people to drink more. But you only have to replace alcohol with, say, tea to realise what nonsense that is

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    3. There are some good comments on the strain of snobbery in healthy eating campaigns in this article by Daniel Hannan:

      "The answer, I think, reveals an ugly strain of snobbery in modern Britain. No, we don’t want rules on our own diets. But we think that others, perhaps poorer and less educated than ourselves, might need a bit of bullying.

      "What comes into your mind when I say “junk food”? I’m guessing it’s not duck à l’orange or Eton Mess. Our objection, in other words, is not to high-calorie food per se. It’s not olive oil we want to restrict. It’s chips. Or at least chips of the sort you get at KFC. When they’re cut in thick chunks and piled artfully on our plates like a game of Jenga, that’s different."

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    4. <a href="https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/health/its-not-a-takeaway-when-we-do-it-say-middle-class-people-20170726132824>The Daily Mash</a> has done this as well.

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    5. Apologies, missed the quote off the end.

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  4. The Stafford Mudgie4 January 2019 at 15:31

    "If we are indeed as a society becoming more obese then it is due to doing less, not eating more".
    So 'the Health Lobby' we're all paying for should put just as much effort into making sure each of us gets a certain amount of exercise each day but, no, that wouldn't be quite as easy for them.

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    1. They are trying! NICE wants all new roads to have restrictions for cars, motorcycles and anything with an engine to promote the use of walking, cycling and perversely public transport. So they are trying to interfere with many people.

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    2. It's also partly due to the spread of central heating, meaning that people have to expend fewer calories on maintaining body heat. Maybe that's another way in which PHE could propose making people's lived more miserable.

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  5. It wouldn't get through Parliament even if the Government followed PHE's pointer.

    Let's calm down.

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    1. Like the ban on alcohol advertising didn't get through Parliament? Like the smoking ban didn't get through parliament? Like minimum unit pricing didn't get through the Scottish Parliament?

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    2. But they were practical to introduce. This would be fraught with all manner of complexity and difficulty. And the gummint is only hanging on by its fingernails as it is.

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    3. The Opposition isn't exactly more kindly disposed towards lifestyle freedom, is it? And I don't think it would require primary legislation anyway - the current programme of food "reforumulation" certainly hasn't. Such proposals also have the effect of shifting the "Overton window" defining the terms of acceptable debate.

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  6. It's a ridiculous idea, but I'm afraid to say that there's plenty of people that find making a sensible, informed choice hard. There really are people that don't understand that eating a full English for breakfast then pie and chips for lunch and dinner (or dinner and tea!) is both intrinsically unhealthy and far too many calories for most people. The question is how to deal with it sensibly?

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    1. I'd refer you to Mudgie's reference to Daniel Hannan's article above. For "people that find making a sensible, informed choice hard", read "others, perhaps poorer and less educated than ourselves". Who am I or you or anyone else to dictate to someone else what constitutes a sensible, informed choice? The very wording infers an assumption of superiority.

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    2. But essential to the concept of freedom is the freedom to make unwise decisions. Just because a minority do so doesn't mean that nobody should be allowed to choose for themselves. And if people are allowed to vote, surely they should also be allowed to decide what to eat.

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    3. IMO, the answer is education, and that should be PHE's role: not one of dictating what people should eat, and indeed for voting; people should be given the information and the tools to make an informed choice. Then, of course we run into the problem of lies perpetuated by politicians, by health campaigners, and of course by businesses looking to maximise their profits by whatever means they can.

      A important part of freedom is to take responsibility for those unwise decisions, and to do that you need to be able to evaluate how unwise one might be.

      Whatever way you view it, we as a nation are getting fatter; a glance in the high st wll show that, and it is only right that it should be addressed. The ways and means are what we need to work on.

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    4. Stymaster? What lies do, for example, MacDonald or KFC or Pizza Hut propagate that are of the same magnitude of the lies from PHE and politicians.

      And to me a glance at the school gates at 1530 assures me that the statistic that 30% of primary school children are fat is simply and absolutely wrong. This article by Snowden explains why
      https://health.spectator.co.uk/no-one-in-three-children-arent-obese-this-headline-grabbing-figure-is-a-statistical-invention/

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    5. I'll clarify the lies: they come from politicians, mostly, always have, always will.

      The likes of PHE are more of the exaggeration and distortion class. I'd say that Pizza Hut etc are fairly honest for the most part- they've bowed to public pressure over the years, but there's plenty of stuff in supermarkets that, while not dishonestly sold (thankfully, regulation stops that), is perhaps, a little cynical: The current demon seems to be sugar, it used to be fat. When fat was the demon, lots of low fat food arrived, loaded with sugar to make up texture and taste. Now, I don't really see that as a huge problem, provided it's labelled (regulations again!) so people can make that choice.

      I'm perfectly prepared to agree that "30% of school children are fat" is incorrect. Without hanging around school gates myself (I 'm a middle-aged man with no kids of my own, so it seems unwise...), the primary-age kids I see seem normal, but (again anecdotally) a glance at the 20-30 year olds to me looks like they're on average bigger than my social group when we were that age.

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    6. You could probably show something similar for adult obesity too – the total amount is exaggerated, and there’s no evidence of an exponential increase. I’d expect it to start reaching a plateau and then declining, if it hasn’t done so already. We may poke fun at the trend towards dieting and healthy eating, but it must be having an effect on the overall population. Being seriously overweight is now highly unfashionable – when did you last see a serious fatty in a managerial or professional role?

      In any case, why is other people being obese my problem anyway? It’s not as if it’s infectious, and there’s a strong argument that obesity actually saves the NHS money.

      Yes, some people do have a problem with overeating, as with excessive alcohol consumption. But it’s something that should be addressed by a targeted approach, not the collective punishment of whole population measures.

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    7. It isn't just obesity that saves the nhs money: smoking, drinking, drug taking and other dangerous activities do as well; as Christopher Snowden points out here

      https://www.conservativehome.com/thinktankcentral/2015/12/chris-snowdon-forcing-us-to-be-healthy-costs-the-government-money.html

      The nub of the argument is that most of the cost to the nhs is incurred in the last two or three years of life, whether that is a careful life terminating at 95 or a drug related death at 25. But people living to 95 incur the extra cost of dealing with the inevitable problems of old age and geriatric care. And, broadening the argument, dying at 25 saves the exchequer the not inconsiderable cost of the thirty years of pensions that a 95 year old draws.

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    8. I'm a little disturbed, frankly, that we're sliding away from "people should be able to make their own lifestyle choices" (which I fully agree with) to "it's great that people smoke/drink/eat themselves to death because the taxpayer burden is reduced" which is an altogether more unpleasant circumstance. That probably wasn't the intention but it's moving that way.

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    9. I don't think anyone's arguing that, just pointing out that the familiar argument that unhealthy lifestyles impose a burden on the NHS isn't as straightforward as often imagined. What really increases lifetime healthcare costs is rising longevity, which in itself is largely the result of better healthcare. Cure people of one thing, and they'll only survive to develop something else.

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    10. Please don't build straw men from my comments. I do not think that it is great that bad lifestyle choices reduce the burden on the NHS. Only that it is dishonest of PHE to present the opposite argument.

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    11. > Curmudgeon: why is other people being obese my problem anyway?
      It is my problem when I have to share a double seat on a bus, train or aeroplane with a grossly overweight person. :-)

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  7. Put a treadmill in pub doorways and at pub bars requiring 2000 steps before a pint can be ordered. That'll sort the porkers out.

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    1. Provided they do in in Jamie's Italian as well...

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    2. Don't be silly. Jamie's Italian serves health Mediterranean food.

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