November 30, 2022

Your government orders you not to get fat

Nuffield Council on Bioethics defends "nanny state" to keep citizens healthy.


Britons need busybody governments to keep them healthy, says the
Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an influential thinktank, in a new
report on public health. It focuses on alcohol, smoking, obesity,
infectious disease and fluoridation of water. "People often
reject the idea of a ‘nanny state’," says Lord Krebs, the chair
of the committee. "But the Government has a duty to look after
the health of everyone and sometimes that means guiding or
restricting our choices." Amongst the Council’s recommendations
are increased taxes on alcohol and restricted opening hours; changing
food labelling to prevent obesity; less "obesogenic"
environments; and giving aid to developing countries to monitor
infectious disease. Coincidentally, the British Fertility Society has
released guidelines which stipulate that obese women should be
refused fertility treatment and told to do more exercise.

The recommendations were criticised by Mick Hume, a "libertarian
left" columnist for the London Times. He thought it
hypocritical to enforce conformity while invoking the patron saint of
liberalism, John Stuart Mill. "And who are the vulnerable people
that the steward State must protect? More to the point, who aren’t
they? Those labelled ‘vulnerable groups’ now include children, women,
the elderly, ethnic minorities, disabled people — in short,
most people. So, we supposedly live in a society where almost
everybody is vulnerable, and millions are harming the health of
others. No matter that we are actually living longer and healthier
lives than ever before." ~ Nuffield press release; London
Times, Nov 16

3 thoughts on “Your government orders you not to get fat

  1. I can see why Dr. James thought this article is funny. I am not a doctor, but I remain interested in the many subjects relating to bioethics. Yes, I have a health problem and I fit in the “vulnerable” category because I am a woman 😉

    I think that the Nuffield Bioethics Committee have come to a very naive conclusion regarding how far a government can go as regards intervention strategies for health reasons. It is very naive to assume that obesity is the cause of our health problems. I would propose that obesity is more likely a symptom of a variety of health problems, and could even be described as a “syndrome”.

    Governments can legislate to ensure that the food we eat contains no harmful ingredients (how I wish that there was legislation preventing the inclusion of tomato based products in processed foods – but hey not everyone has this kind of allergic problem)and government can legislate to limit the kind of harmful ingredients that has been added to cigarettes, but the role should stop right there.

    When government attempts to control the medical profession that is when we end up with a real messy situation, and the significant problems that exist with our hospital systems throughout Australia is a legacy of a poor standard of government intervention. The crowding of hospital waiting rooms with people who could be attending a GP is evidence that since the inception of Medicare (the original version) the standard of care of patients has become a political football and without any real insight into what is ailing within the hospital system. The UK hospital and medical system is even worse than what we have in Australia.

  2. I have not yet entirely finished reading the Nuffield Council’s lengthy and considered report, but your account of it is pretty misleading. It is particularly misleading to juxtapose it with the report from the British Fertility Society as the Nuffield Report more or less rules out ‘forcing’ people to lose weight, etc, only recommends it might be appropriate to advise people with regard weight loss, smoking, etc, if it will affect the success of treatment, and with offering them with help to do so. Who could argue with this? Moreover, the report is far from the Nanny State: it is explicitly against coercing people. It also explicitly *argues* as to why we need to go beyond Mill, although his work is taken as a basis. Most tellingly for the charge that it is trying to mould people’s choices, is its rightful claim that to do nothing is itself an option. People’s choices are being moulded all the time by advertising, pricing, food labelling, even the design of our cities.
    I was most disappointed with your summary dismissal of this report, you really should try to produce a more accurate account. A lot of its recommendations are pretty mild: e.g. changing default choices so that the easy obvious choice is not always chips, for example. How does this restrict freedom to any significant degree? Why are we happy for tobacco companies, supermarkets, fast food joints, to restrict and shape our choices, but go wild when a body who is concerned about health inequalities, which are not getting any better, discusses how our choices in society are always constrained by one thing or another?

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