Three quarters of the population would like the government to prevent people from leading unhealthy lifestyles, a survey findings show.
People want government action on issues like public smoking
The King's Fund, an independent think tank, surveyed more than 1,000 people and found most favoured a "nanny state" controlling diet and public smoking.
Responses varied with socio-economic background, with people from lower classes wanting cheaper food.
Higher classes wanted action on smoking and alcohol.
Those in lower socio-economic groups felt they had less control over their own health.
They were more likely to expect to get ill in the future and were more likely than those better off to want the NHS to focus on treating the sick rather than preventing illness.
The two groups were united on the issue of banning smoking in public places, with 71% of higher socio-economic groups and 66% of lower groups supporting it.
Nine out of every 10 of those questioned agreed individuals should be responsible for their own health.
But people preferred clear messages like "don't smoke", which they found easier to understand than messages about eating or drinking telling them to consume certain amounts of units.
King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said: "This poll goes a long way to debunking the myth that the public are afraid of a 'nanny state'.
90% want healthier school meals
66% want a smoking ban in public places
80% want government action to ensure fruit and vegetables become cheaper
72% want laws to limit salt, fat and sugar in foods
73% want a stop on advertising junk foods to children
72% want food labels informing them of nutritional value
"Contrary to what many claim, the public does want the government to be bolder and take action.
"However, it also shows the size of the challenge the government faces in getting the balance right, between informing and advising people about health, introducing social and economic measures that enable people to make healthy choices and using bans and other forms of regulation."
He said the government had to be particularly careful in making sure people from lower socio-economic groups have the same opportunities to make healthy choices as the better off.
Paul Streets, chief executive of the Health Development Agency, said: "This is a clear signal that a stronger partnership for health between the government and the public is needed to reduce ill-health.
"One startling outcome is the difference in attitude between the socio-economic groups where people in lower groups feel they have less control over their health.
"Barriers such as the high cost of fresh fruit and vegetables and limited free access to sports facilities are preventing them from leading a healthy lifestyle," he said.
A spokesman from Action and Smoking on Health said: "In what way is it saying people want a 'nanny state'? I think the Kings Fund is in fact saying that people don't think intelligent government intervention is nannying.
"We would welcome the evidence of this survey as showing that the public has the good sense to recognize that public health depends on a mix of personal responsibility, government intervention and public provision," he said.
Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest,
said: "It won't surprise anyone that a government supported poll produces a result calling for more state intervention.
"Common sense tells you that most people do not like being told how to live their lives.
"Most of us want less not more government. We want to be educated and well-informed, but few people want to be nannied from cradle to grave," he said.