Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Why we need more nannying

Dr Alan Maryon Davis
Dr Alan Maryon-Davis
President, UK Faculty of Public Health

After smoking, junk food may be the next battleground

The term 'nanny state' is not normally used as a compliment.

But public health expert Dr Alan Maryon Davis says we need more nannying, not less.

It seems that not a day goes past without the government launching yet another health campaign, issuing another lifestyle guideline or passing some new law banning this or that threat to our safety or well-being.

Is the government 'nannying' us too much? Is it trying too hard to micro-manage our health?

I say firmly - no.


On the contrary, there's plenty of evidence that people want to see the government doing more to help us avoid big killers like heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Attitudes have changed radically over the 30 years I've been involved in promoting and protecting public health.

I see an increasing acceptance that we, all of us, need not only more information and guidance from government, but also more legislation to save us from ourselves.

We accept the laws on seat-belts, crash helmets and drink-driving because we know they reduce road injuries and deaths.

We need to press for more legislation to improve and protect health and well-being.

We are happy to see bans on tobacco advertising and the selling of alcohol and tobacco to minors because we understand the dangers for young people.

And to my mind the really shining example of how far the public have come in accepting laws to help protect us from self-harm is the huge support for smoke-free public spaces and workplaces throughout the UK.

This has already saved many lives and will, I believe, prove to be the greatest step forward in public health since the birth of the NHS.

Big stick


But it was ordinary people who really tipped the balance to change the law. It was the steady shift in public opinion that gave legislators the courage. It proved that we, the people, can have a powerful influence on the way laws can be made on our behalf.

I strongly believe we should exercise that influence much more.

We need to press for more legislation to improve and protect health and well-being.

Child in car
I would like to see a ban on smoking in cars with a child on board

We need a big stick to curb the worst excesses of the various commercial interests who shape our lifestyle.

We've been largely successful with the tobacco industry, and now it's time to shift the focus onto alcohol and junk-food.

Voluntary codes of practice - in effect self-policing by the food and drink industry - simply haven't worked.

The government has got to stop pussyfooting around and get tough.

Take food labelling. For years the health lobby has been trying to get a simple standardised 'traffic-light' scheme on the front of packaged foods so that shoppers can instantly tell if an item is high, medium or low in fat, sugar and salt.

But the food industry has been allowed to come up with so many different schemes that the public is utterly confused.

More laws

The government really must stop dithering and impose a simple mandatory scheme that everyone can understand. The same goes for alcohol and the drinks industry.

Information is good and food labelling should be as informative as possible, but let's not encourage our government to pass even more laws against personal freedoms.
Marie, Sutton

What next? I would like to see a ban on smoking in cars with a child on board and a ban on displays of cigarettes in shops. I would like to see a real hike in tax on alcohol and a ban on deep price-cuts for booze. I would like to see a wider ban on junk-food adverts around TV programmes watched largely by children.

I would like to see a whole raft of other legislation for health.

This is not 'nannying'. This is responsible government acting on behalf of a consenting public.

Campaigns, guidelines and voluntary codes aren't enough. We need more laws to ensure that the world in which we live, work and play will help promote and protect our health.

And we all need to play a greater part in shaping those laws.

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