Jeremy Laurance: We may not like it, but we still need to be told what's good for us

Medical Life

So nanny is being shown the door. After years of faithful service she has been told to pack her bags and be on her way. From here on we will run our own lives, without her constant chivvying – making our own choices, for good or ill.

Andrew Lansley, the trim 58-year-old health secretary, is impatient with Government efforts to make us fitter or slimmer or healthier. He even took an ill-advised pop at Jamie Oliver, the irrepressible chef and public hero, for his campaign to improve school meals.

Reports that the Food Standards Agency was to be abolished were denied yesterday, but last week's revelation that funding of the Government's Change4life campaign to curb soaring obesity rates is to be handed to food firms including Mars, Cadbury and Coca Cola, was not. The direction of travel is clear. When it comes to deciding what is good or bad for us, we are on our own.

Some will welcome this – those robust individuals who abjure Government regulation as unwarranted intrusion into individual lives. Not me, however. I am an unashamed paternalist – we just need to think more cleverly about paternalism.

Julian le Grand, professor of health policy at the London School of Health Economics and a former No 10 adviser to Tony Blair, has an interesting take on this – he calls it libertarian paternalism. Instead of requiring people to make healthy choices – by giving up smoking, taking more exercise, eating healthily – he has suggested turning things around so the automatic default option is the healthy option, and people have to choose deliberately to depart from it.

Among his suggestions are a proposal for a smoking permit, which smokers would have to produce when buying cigarettes, an "exercise hour" to be provided by all large companies for their employees and a ban on salt in processed food.

The beauty of this idea is that instead of opting in to healthy schemes, people would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice – by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table. The ingenious thing about this approach is that it preserves individual choice, and can therefore be defended against charges of a "nanny state". You are not being made to do anything or being banned from anything. There is no prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism.

Lansley, on present form, is unlikely to be interested. Yet the evidence on the benefits of paternal regulation is staring him in the face. The proposal to ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces (including, most controversially, pubs) split the government and provoked a prolonged political battle over "nanny state" Britain. Instead it triggered the biggest fall ever seen in smoking in England, with over two billion fewer cigarettes smoked in the first year. A study last month showed, more than 1,000 heart attacks were prevented.

We may not like nanny but we are going to miss her.

News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

    Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition