From boozing to obesity: the new health tyranny?

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Sunday 16 October, Church House, London


It seems that governments can’t get enough of meddling in our lifestyle choices, especially since the turn of the century. We’ve seen a widespread ban on smoking in public spaces and workplaces. In Scotland and Wales, there is now a minimum unit price for alcohol. Across the UK, sugary drinks are now taxed, forcing most manufacturers to reformulate to keep prices down while depriving their customers of choice. Debate is raging on whether to ban ‘buy one, get one free’ deals in supermarkets.

For politicians, these are vital steps in protecting the health of the nation when diseases related to smoking, boozing and obesity are leading causes of ill-health and mortality. Proponents argue that individual choice must be set aside to protect others and to reduce the strain on health services. But critics see these as attacks on personal autonomy, often with little impact on the problems they are supposed to solve.

But it’s not just governments: the moral imperative to live a healthy life has become all-encompassing. Day after day, we are bombarded with advice from all quarters about what we eat and drink, how much exercise we should do, and the latest fads about ‘superfoods’, supplements and alternative therapies.

Have we become too obsessed with health, and if so, why? Should our habits be a matter of personal choice or is it right to place restrictions on them? Is making food and booze more expensive in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis a good idea? Grab the breakfast of your choice, ‘healthy’ or otherwise, and join us for some lively banter on living longer.

Justine Brian
director, Civitas Schools; commentator on food issues

Christopher Snowdon
head of lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; editor, Nanny State Index; author, Killjoys

John Vincent
co-founder, LEON; creator, FeedNHS; co-author, 2013 government School Food Plan; founder, The Longhouse

Dr Mo Lovatt
national coordinator, Debating Matters; programme coordinator, Academy of Ideas