However in the case of both obesity and alcohol, the current Government is reluctant to take action.
Sugar tax? Alcohol tax? Marketing restrictions? Reformulation? Licensing laws? Hello?
Part of the reason for this, is that MPs are usually expected to represent their constituents' preferences and are reluctant to support unpopular policies. Effective legislation to limit the global health burden of both obesity and alcohol therefore relies on public backing in order to be passed. In our society, the dominant dogma is that to maximise the welfare of our citizens we have to maximise freedom and personal choice. Policies to to dictate what we eat or lower alcohol consumption tend to be seen as contrary to this central tenet and therefore tend to be disliked by voters.
Democracy's a bugger, isn't it?
We need a paradigm shift where intervention is not seen as interfering or the actions of a ‘nanny state’. In his book, ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less’, Professor Barry Schwartz argues against this set of beliefs and how ‘too much choice’ actually shifts the burden of responsibility to the individual and makes us less satisfied.
I've read Schwartz's book. It's the pitiful whining of a rich man who has nothing to worry about except what style of jeans to buy. Anybody who is impressed by it is, frankly, a moron and anyone who thinks that free choice is a problem should move to a fascist, communist or theocratic country.
The current reliance on voluntary action by the food and alcohol industry has not worked. It is in the interest of industry to paint organisations such as the World Obesity Federation and Alcohol Health Alliance as nanny statists when in fact the Government has an opportunity to protect the next generation from many diseases including liver disease and cancer and reduce the crippling burden of obesity and alcohol on the NHS and society.
Voluntary action? Alcohol is taxed to the hilt and has legal restrictions on when and where it can be sold, and on who it can be sold to. Its advertising is restricted to the point that companies cannot make truthful claims about their product. The same is increasingly the case for food.
If you try to stop adult consumers from doing things that might only harm themselves, you are a nanny statist, and the Institute for Alcohol Studies is a temperance group. You might not like these terms - and so you shouldn't - but that's what you are.
When accompanied by good education, we know that simple legislative measures can and do work. In just 6 months, the introduction of a 5p charge for plastic bags has resulted in 7 billion fewer bags being used and more than £29 million being raised for charities and community groups. Let’s have a similar game changing approach for unhealthy food and drink.
Fine. Let's have a 5p tax on drinks. Now jog on.