Wednesday 30 December 2020

Last Orders with Simon Evans

There's a new end-of-year edition of the Last Orders podcast out. We were delighted to welcome back the great comedian Simon Evans. Check it out. 

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Still ruled by imbeciles

The government's first policy announcement since reaching a deal with the EU was to launch a string of regulations that would have been condemned as a petty, illiberal and anti-business if they had come from Brussels.
From April 2022, we will restrict promotions on food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar in shops to make healthier choices easier.

Once upon a time, pathetic people complained about sweets and chocolates being displayed at supermarket checkouts. The danger, apparently, was that children would ask their parents to buy them and the parent would have to say no (or yes - it doesn't make much difference in the great scheme of things). Idiotic politicians took the threat of 'pester power' seriously and so did the supermarket owners who, seeing that it was unpopular with Mumsnet and the Daily Mail, stopped doing it.

The idea of banning it nevertheless remained. And it snowballed, as things do when fanatical activists and gullible politicians are involved. The result is an incredibly wide-ranging assault on how retailers will be allowed to do business.
Supermarkets in England are to be barred from displaying unhealthy food and drinks at checkouts or using them in buy one, get one free offers, as part of a proposed government crackdown on obesity.

..The checkout restrictions will apply to other sales-boosting locations such as the entrances to stores or at the end of aisles. Similar rules will apply for websites, banning sales links to unhealthy foods on places such as homepages, or at checkout or payment pages. Restaurants will no longer be able to offer free refills of sugary drinks.

The latest public health minister Jo Churchill (very much no relation) explains the rationale for this in the Orwellian language that shows she has been well briefed by the 'public health' racket. 

We know families want to be presented with healthier choices. This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Better choices through restrictions! As Squealer said of Napoleon in Animal Farm...
'He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?'
Explaining the ban on multiple purchase discounts, the Department of Health says...

Promotions often appear to help shoppers save money. However, data shows that these deals actually increase purchases of promoted products by almost 20%.

I'd never thought it about like that before, had you? All these years I've been buying a pack of four bars of soap and a pack of four tins of baked beans because it worked out cheaper on a per-unit basis than buying one. But now I understand that I would have spent less if I'd have just bought one or two. Admittedly, I'd have had to go shopping more often, but that's a small price to pay for saving money. Thank you, the government, for putting me straight.  

They encourage people to buy more than they need or intended to buy in the first place.
How does Jo Churchill know how much I intended to buy, let alone how I much I 'need'? Have you ever noticed that despite eating something on one day, you need something to eat the next day? If I buy 'more than I intended', the worst that can happen is that I open the kitchen cupboard and there's something in it. The government is legislating against this?
God almighty, how thick do they think we are? The government's own impact assessment shows that multi-buy discounts save shoppers money and that a ban on BOGOFs will cost the average household up to £634 a year.  

We are ruled by imbeciles. Still, at least they're British imbeciles, eh?

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Where are all the obese children?

Spot the fat kid

The Health Survey for England 2019 was published today. As its name suggests, there is a slight lag in the data, but it gives us the obesity figures for last year. For adults, the figure is 28 per cent, similar to the last couple of years. 

Let's do our annual update of the graph to see how the Lancet's 2011 prediction of one in two men being obese by 2030 is looking.

It's miles out, as usual.

For children (aged 2-15) the official obesity rate is 16 per cent. This is similar to recent years. In fact, there has been no rise in childhood obesity since the 1990s, not that you'd guess that from the way campaigners and gullible journalists go on.

As I have explained many times, the UK uses a unscientific system that massively exaggerates the scale of childhood obesity. This is obvious just from looking at the numbers. The 'obesity' rate among 11-15 year old boys is 27 per cent. If you add the 'overweight' it comes to 42 per cent! Among girls of the same age, the figures are 20 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. Where are all these kids? Why can nobody see them?

People tend to get fatter as they get older and yet, if you combine the adult obesity figures - which use the imperfect but adequate BMI cut-off of 30 - with the child obesity figures - which are an arbitrarily derived fiction - it appears that loads of children get very fat at school and suddenly become normal weight once they become adults. 

Here are the data for males:

For 11-15 year olds, the 'obesity' rate is 24 per cent. And yet for the next age group, those between 16-24, it is just 13 per cent. For girls, the figures are an equally implausible 20 per cent and 12 per cent respectively. 

And the same thing can be seen every year; it's not that 2019 had a particularly fat cohort of 11 to 15 year olds. 

Does no one involved in gathering these statistics think it odd that the obesity rate mysteriously halves once kids have taken their GCSEs? Or that it takes them another 30 years to regain the weight? 

This alone should be enough to discredit the measurement and yet the government sticks with it year after year despite it producing statistics that defy credibility. It allows the chumps at Public Health England to claim that one in three children are 'overweight or obese' by the time they start secondary school, despite none of the parents who drop them off at school being able to see them. 

Friday 11 December 2020

Lockdowns, wellbeing and happiness - the evidence

I've written a bit about happiness economics over the years. I concluded that trying to measure happiness, wellbeing and life satisfaction is not very useful in forming public policy because nothing much seems to affect them at the aggregate level apart from the obvious (poverty, war, unemployment, etc.) and even those factors don't affect them as much as you might expect.

I tended to agree with Jamie Whyte's prediction that average happiness scores in Britain would always be within seven and eight out of ten.

But COVID-19 and lockdowns changed all that. I recently did a webinar for the IEA looking at how happiness is measured and what the implications are for policy. It's a talk I've often done in person in the past, but I added some early evidence about the impact of lockdowns with a promise that more data were on their way.

They arrived today from the ONS and it's a grim picture. Rates of depression were double the pre-Covid level in November at 19%, the same rate recorded in June during the first lockdown. Every measure is worse than it was in February and the average scores for happiness and life satisfaction are comfortably below seven out of ten. Note that happiness scores returned to normal in August and September, which suggests that it was the restrictions on freedom, rather than fear of the virus, that was driving these changes.

I suppose you can interpret the data in two ways. Either you can conclude that COVID-19 and the response to it has done unprecedented damage to the nation's wellbeing, or you can conclude that even in the worst year in living memory, wellbeing scores remained above 6.5 out of 10 - and, therefore, that these measures are not sensitive enough to pick up on non-catastrophic changes.

I think both are probably true.

Thirdhand smoke - the bogeyman California deserves

For a bit of light entertainment, let's see what's happening in California...
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, turning our homes into offices, classrooms and gyms to protect us from the deadly coronavirus. The pandemic has also disrupted the time-honored real estate rituals of open houses and in-person home tours, and we are now using virtual tours and other “non-touch” experiences to find a new home. Buying a home or renting an apartment based on a virtual tour may be a positive development for the real estate industry, but consumers need to know what they may miss in a virtual-only experience.
And what is that?

Most notably, a virtual tour cannot tell us much about hazardous chemical substances in that home: pollutants in the indoor air, in the walls and built-in furniture, and on surfaces.
I suppose so. And if I told you that the author is our old friend, Georg Matt, director of the taxpayer-funded Thirdhand Smoke Resource Center, you can probably guess which 'pollutants' are on his mind.

A common source of indoor pollution is contamination from toxic chemicals in tobacco and marijuana smoke and electronic cigarette vapor. 
Here comes the science...
In a recent study of 220 apartments in San Diego County, we found nicotine residue in every unit, even homes of nonsmokers with strict smoking bans.
Wow! It seems that no one is safe and everyone is at risk. Quick, give Dr Matt some more money!
In about 10% of homes of nonsmokers, we found levels of toxic tobacco residue as high as levels typically seen in homes of active indoor smokers.
Seems unlikely, to be honest. Are sure your equipment's working properly?
Secondhand smoke contains a mixture of many different chemicals, and while we may no longer be able to detect secondhand smoke in the air after a few hours, its toxic chemicals stick to and linger in carpets, furniture, walls and ventilation systems. Over weeks, months and years of repeated smoking, these chemicals can become embedded in materials and remain in these reservoirs long after smokers have moved out. This chemical residue, also known as thirdhand smoke, includes numerous toxic substances listed under California’s Proposition 65 known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Probably. Prop 65 is notorious for including so many chemicals that virtually everything has to be labelled with a warning in California. 

With modern technology you can find trace levels of almost anything if you try hard enough. That's why 'toxins' found in tobacco smoke can be found in the homes of people who don't smoke and don't allow smoking. What is always forgotten in screwball states like California is that the dose makes the poison. 

First, we call for a comprehensive smoking ban in all multi-unit housing.

Of course you do. 

Second, we call for accurate disclosure of past smoking (including e-cigarettes and marijuana) in real estate transactions and rental contracts. For the benefit of buyers, renters, sellers, apartment managers and Realtors, we ask the California Department of Real Estate to provide education and require disclosure regarding tobacco, electronic cigarette and marijuana use in real estate transactions and for the Department of Consumer Affairs to require the same in lease agreements. Similarly, we ask the California Association of Realtors to update its seller property questionnaire to include questions about how long, how much and where tobacco products were used on a property.

That's just what California needs - more utterly pointless bureaucracy. 

Third, we call for environmental testing of thirdhand smoke toxic substances to certify homes as free of toxic thirdhand smoke residue. Such testing could allow a seller to advertise a property as free of toxic thirdhand smoke residue or alert the seller to the need to clean up the toxic legacy to provide a safe home for the next occupant. Scientifically proven thirdhand smoke testing methods for homes already exist but need to be made more affordable and accessible to consumers.

I wonder if there are any 'thirdhand smoke' 'experts' with the appropriate equipment who could deliver this service for a price? 

This is one of the grifts of the century.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

The war on gambling: phase two

The Times is strangely puritanical about sugar and gambling. You'd hope that a newspaper so obsessed with these issues would familiarise itself with the basic facts and yet its reporters and columnists have made mistake after mistake from day one. If you relied on The Times for information you would think that the number of problem gamblers doubles every few years, whereas it has remained low and flat for twenty years. 

The Times is far from being alone in misreporting gambling statistics but, along with the Guardian, it seems to have made it a personal mission to get rid of the dreaded fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). 

You know the rhetoric: crack cocaine of gambling, £100 every twenty seconds, casinos on every high street, etc. Well, that all came to an end on April 2019 when the maximum stake was slashed to £2, thereby making games with a 1:1 payout unplayable to most punters. 
From the media coverage between 2012 and 2018, you would think that FOBTs were almost the sole cause of problem gambling. Certainly, they were portrayed as the main cause. One of Derek Webb's pressure groups, the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, asserted in 2013 that...
‘FOBTs is [sic] the only gambling activity significantly and positively associated with disordered gambling’
Has a de facto ban on this alleged scourge pacified the campaigners who swore on a stack of Bibles that they were 'not anti-gambling'? Has it reduced the number of problem gamblers or significantly reduced the amount of money that is 'lost' to gambling? Reader, it has done none of these things. As I predicted in 2018, it has instead led to open season being declared on gambling, starting with raising the age at which you can play the Lottery as the hors d'oeuvres for a no-holds-barred review of all gambling regulation that has been described as a 'reformers' shopping list'.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on FOBTs has become the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has morphed into Clean Up Gambling, still funded by Derek Webb and fronted by Matt Zarb-Cousin, but with a much wider remit. You will hear no more about FOBTs being the only gambling activity that is 'significantly and positively associated with disordered gambling'. 
The Times has also moved swiftly on to the next phase. There is not a hint in today's editorial that the banishing of FOBTs has reduced the amount of gambling-related harm or done any good at all. On the contrary, it suggests that things are getting worse, as they always are when people are looking for new dragons to slay. 

As betting shops close and online gaming takes its place, the old adage that the house always wins is truer than ever.

Is it? Maybe we shouldn't have closed all those betting shops then (1 in 8 have gone since 2017).

Last year total losses for British gamblers ballooned to £14.4 billion.

No, they fell slightly to £14.2 billion, but who cares about facts when there's a crusade to win? The big losers between 2019 and 2020, as expected, were the bookies who saw their revenue drop by £750 billion, but this was nearly all offset by gains in other areas, particularly adult gaming centres and online. 
Still, 4,000 people lost their jobs in bookmaking last year so you can't say the anti-FOBT measures had no effect at all. 

There is no obvious endpoint to this new war on gambling so expect the bans, lies, destruction and ignorance to continue indefinitely.

Monday 7 December 2020

Food fight

The Adam Smith Institute have set up a campaign to oppose the government's preposterous ban on food advertising. They make a number of salient points on their website, such as...

The proposed ban will have huge ramifications for the food and advertising industries. This is particularly true for small businesses that increasingly rely on online ads and are facing huge pressures from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research from the Internet Advertising Bureau found 69% of SMEs use online advertising (both free and paid). Of that, 64% believe digital advertising is now more important to the future of their business in recovering from the pandemic.

Up to 45% of the UK’s total digital ad spend comes from SME spend, coming in at over £7bn in 2019.

There were approximately 7,130 SMEs in the food and drink sector with turnover of around £21 billion and 135,000 employees in 2019. In the food sector (excluding beverages) SMEs accounted for 79% of businesses, 27% of employment and 17% of turnover.

So what is to be done? This is where you can help...

The Government thinks that everyone is perfectly happy for them to ruin their local restaurants, pubs and cafés. That’s where you come in. We need to spread the word. You can take action against the ad ban by:

Responding to the Government’s consultation.
You can make your thoughts on the ad ban clear to the Government by responding to its consultation here.

Writing to your MP.
You can find out how to contact your local MP here.

Spreading the word on social media using #ScrapTheAdBan.

I responded to the consultation this morning. It is slanted towards a certain outcome, as government consultations tend to, but you can still make it clear that you disapprove.

Friday 4 December 2020

Desperate ASH demand plain packaging for rolling papers and filter tips

The tax-spongers at Action on Smoking and Health are really scraping the barrel now. Palpably desperate to find new dragons to slay, they want plain packaging for rolling paper and filter tips
If they weren't such a hateful organisation, you could almost feel sorry for them. 

The hook for this latest demand is a flimsy report from CRUK which cobbles together some junk science from the activists at Bath and Stirling Universities, Anna Gilmore being amongst them. 

The first piece of research, from Bath, falsely claims that the 'rate of decline for tobacco sales doubled around the introduction of standardised packaging'. 
On average seven million fewer sticks were sold per month pre-implementation whereas an average of 13 million fewer sticks were sold per-month post- implementation.

HMRC's tobacco bulletin keeps track of tobacco sales. It shows a steep decline in (legal) cigarette sales until 2016/17, no doubt largely thanks to the emergence of e-cigarettes, after which the downward trend slowed appreciably.
For roll-your-own tobacco, sales bottomed out in 2016/17 and have since risen by 20 per cent.

It's nigh on impossible for a credible academic to turn this pig's ear into a silk purse. And so the job was left to Anna Gilmore of Bath University's Tobacco Control Research Group, which is now awash with Bloomberg cash.
John Britton and his team of anti-smoking zealots had to reluctantly concede that the same point in a study published in 2018:

The implementation of standardized packaging legislation in the United Kingdom, which included minimum pack sizes of 20, was associated with significant increases overall in the price of manufactured cigarettes, but no clear deviation in the ongoing downward trend in total volume of cigarette sales.
Nevertheless, Gilmore and co. are once again claiming that black is white. 
The other piece of research, from Stirling University, comes to the unsurprising conclusion that tobacco companies didn't start selling cigarettes in plain packaging until they had to.
Tobacco companies used the full 12-month transition period to delay the removal of fully-branded products and gradually phase in standardised packaging.
The Stirling research actually contains some mildly interesting and useful information. Tobacco companies made sure there was plenty of branded stock on the market until the ban on selling branded cigarettes began on 20 May 2017. I don't think I saw any branded packs until 2017 and this research suggests that I wasn't alone.

Of the 20 fully branded products monitored, 18 continued to be sold throughout the transition period but some changed name. Almost all new names included a colour descriptor and adjective. 
No standardised variants were sold in the first five months. It was not until March 2017 (two months before mandatory compliance) that the average number of standardised products sold by each retailer exceeded the number of fully branded products.

So, although cigarettes had to be manufactured in plain packaging from May 2016, there can't have been any impact on consumer behaviour until 2017 because hardly any consumers had seen them. This further undermines Gilmore's study which compares sales in May 2015 to sales in April 2018. Cigarettes were only widely sold in plain packaging for a third of this period and were not even manufactured in plain packaging for the first third. 

Both the Bath and Stirling studies claim that cigarette prices 'increased as standardised packaging was implemented' in direct contradiction to the Britton et al. study mentioned above. 

All in all, it's the kind of quack science we expect from tobakko kontrol. It's a bit sad to see CRUK endorse it, but never mind. 

The report concludes that the government should ban bevelled edges on cigarette packs, extend plain packaging to filters and rolling papers, and ban the 'use of colours or other descriptors in product variant names'. 

This is desperate stuff, but if you make it to the last page, there are some telling comments.

Unresolved research questions

To date, the evidence we have on the market and industry response to standardised packaging shows that, despite tobacco industry’s tactics to undermine the effect of the legislation, this legislation has been effective in reducing tobacco sales and in tobacco industry revenues in the UK. However, there are still gaps in the academic literature that must be addressed in order to fully evaluate the impact of the legislation. While by no means an exhaustive list, the following key research gaps have been identified:

Smoking behaviours

1. What was the impact of standardised packaging of tobacco products on smoking prevalence in the UK?

2. As standardised packaging was intended to reduce youth uptake of tobacco products, what was the impact of standardised packaging on youth smoking prevalence and consumption in the UK?

In other words, they still don't know whether plain packaging works. Four years after it was introduced, you might hope they'd have an answer by now. 

Spoiler: it doesn't.

Last Orders with Madeline Grant

There's a great new episode of Last Orders out with the Telegraph's Madeline Grant. It was recorded last week when I naively thought that having some of the lowest Covid infection rates in England would put my region in Tier 1. 

Listen here.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Global nicotine prohibition with the WHO

The useless and corrupt World Health Organisation has published a new Global Youth Tobacco Survey (in 'selected countries of the WHO European region', so not very global). It finds that cigarette smoking among 13-15 year olds has declined in nearly every country studied, but there are some telling remarks in the press release.  
New WHO report reveals that while smoking continues to decline among European adolescents, the use of electronic cigarettes by young people is on the rise
How can this be when the WHO reckons that vaping is a gateway to smoking? Or could it be that the fall in smoking is partially related to the rise of vaping? 
While cigarettes remain the most used form of tobacco products, there is a concerning trend emerging from the use of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). According to the latest available data, young people are turning to these products at an alarming rate. The new report reveals that in some countries the rates of e-cigarette use among adolescents were much higher than those for conventional cigarettes. 

And that's a bad thing?

E-cigarettes and other novel and emerging nicotine- and tobacco-containing products, such as heated tobacco products (HTPs), are the next frontier in the global tobacco epidemic. While the latter is a tobacco product, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, and may or may not contain nicotine.
So why are they included in the Global Youth Tobacco Survey? 

Although there are challenges involved in regulating these products, a rigorous application of the WHO FCTC would close advertising loopholes and deny the industry the ability to push its products to young people with impunity. 

That's because the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which shouldn't include non-tobacco products in the first place, stupidly wants a total ban on lifesaving vaping products.

And here comes the grift...

Another crucial tool in the fight against tobacco- and novel nicotine-containing products is collaboration between research institutes and governments. For several years, the Smoke Free Partnership has been highlighting the need for governments and the European Union to invest in tobacco control policy research, ensuring that research is supported, population-focused and policy-relevant.
Yes, it's a racket. But this is the most telling part...
The tobacco industry has been ruthless in its attempts to maintain and increase profits, with e-cigarettes and heated tobacco being just another means to preserving and expanding its markets. However, with good guidance, research and a rigorous implementation of the WHO FCTC, a path can be built towards a tobacco and nicotine-free future.
Many of us have always said that wiping out nicotine use is the ultimate goal of these fanatics and that they will use the same prohibitionist methods as they have with cigarettes. Well, there it is in black and white. Since when was this within the remit of the World Health Organisation? How do get rid of these people?

Wednesday 2 December 2020

SAGE's tier trick

As of today, 99 per cent of the English population will live under tough new Tier 2 or Tier 3 rules. Mixing indoors with people from outside your household will remain illegal in both of these tiers. In Tier 2, you have to buy a ‘substantial meal’ if you want a drink in a pub - and leave when you’ve eaten it, according to the Prime Minister’s spokesman.  In Tier 3, which includes most of the North, all pubs, restaurant and other venues will be closed.

This amounts to carpet-bombing of the hospitality industry by the government and will lead to unprecedented bankruptcies and unemployment in the sector. The affront to civil liberties since March is unlike anything Britain has seen before, even in wartime, and the tier system looks like it will stay in place for at least four more months.

People who went into lockdown in Tier 1 only to come out of it in Tier 3 are understandably perplexed. Lockdown has been working well. On Friday, SAGE finally acknowledged that the rate of infection (R) was below 1. In fact, the number of positive tests reported each day has fallen by 40 per cent since the lockdown began on 5 November and will fall further. So why is Cornwall, which has an infection rate of 45 per 100,000, in Tier 1 when the Cotswolds and Mid-Suffolk, with rates of 41 and 40 per 100,000 respectively, in Tier 2?

The answer is that government scientists have constructed the evidence for the tiered system in a way that ignores the success of lockdown. For a region to be in Tier 2, they want to see (a) low rates, (b) falling rates, and (c) sufficient hospital capacity. The second two of these are a given in most of the country after nearly four weeks of lockdown, so it all depends on the rate of infection being low. A graph published by the government on Thursday suggests that they are looking for the rate to be below 100 per 100,000 people (the places to the left of the line are those where the infection rate has fallen).

Based on current figures, this should include Dorset, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, Sussex, South Cambridgeshire and many other places. But SAGE are not using current figures. They are using figures from 19 November and comparing them to figures from 12 November. This is a big problem because the data from 19 November do not tell us what was happening on 19 November, let alone what is happening now.

People don’t typically ask for a test unless they have symptoms, and it can take up to ten days for an infected person to become symptomatic. They then have to request a test and take it. All this takes time and creates a delay between infections occurring and infections being reported. After Wales introduced its ‘firebreak’ on 23 October, for example, the number of cases rose for a week before they began to drop - and they kept dropping for a week after it ended. This is to be expected and it was the same in the Czech Republic, France, Israel and many other countries. Now that we have mass testing, we can see it more clearly than we did in the spring.

By using data from 19 November to decide which areas should go into each of the three tiers, the government is, in effect, using infection data from 12 November, only a week after lockdown began. The number of infections had fallen by 25 per cent by 19 November and will continue to fall at a similar rate until 9 December, but the government has made no attempt to account for the subsequent decline.

Any honest attempt to put regions in the appropriate tier would estimate what the infection rate will be when the lockdown ends, not what it was three weeks ago. SAGE are no strangers to predictive modelling, but on this occasion they decided to base their decision on what happened in the past.  

Contrast this with the decision to go into the lockdown on October 31. The number of new infections had been flat for a week and many of the areas of greatest concern, such as Liverpool and Manchester, were seeing a decline. The government nevertheless introduced a national lockdown off the back of a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ which, according to Prof Neil Ferguson, assumed that the infection rate was high and the tiered system was having ‘minimal impact’. With these implausible assumptions fed into it, the computer model pointed to lockdown. What else could it do? Garbage in, garbage out.

Making predictions seems to be fine if it deprives us of our liberty, but is unthinkable when it comes to restoring it. The common denominator is an almost pathological desire by government scientists to promote lockdowns at the expense of less costly options.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Think of the children, ban all advertising

With the government leaving us all to rot until Easter and systematically dismantling the pub trade, the clown show of 'public health' almost offers light relief. 

The nanny state fanatics have yet to get their ban on 'junk food' advertising ban over the line in the UK, but they are already eyeing up the next opportunity to extend their control. They lobbied for the ad ban with the usual 'think of the children' excuse. Earlier this year, the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission of self-appointed do-gooders, including international quango queen Helen Clark, (self-)published an article in the Lancet titled 'A future for the world's children?' which included a section on marketing.

Companies make huge profits from marketing products directly to children and promoting addictive or unhealthy commodities, including fast foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, and tobacco, all of which are major causes of non-communicable diseases.

Because you can't move these days without seeing alcohol and tobacco being marketed 'directly to children', can you?
As we have seen with tobacco, and increasingly with food, the zealots insist that children cannot be 'protected' from advertising without advertising being banned entirely. That will always be the longterm goal, not least because they don't want adults seeing adverts for things of which they disapprove either. 

This week, an academic from New Zealand by the name of Darren Powell has written to the Lancet, accusing the Commission of not being extreme enough.

The WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission identified an important threat to children's health and futures by stating that children across the globe are exposed to exploitative advertising and marketing by the private sector. Fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, breastmilk substitutes, and gambling, were positioned as the key products that children are increasingly exposed to and harmed byy [breastmilk substitutes are life-saving and their advertisements are obviously not aimed at children - CJS]. However, by focusing on the marketing of particular so-called unhealthy products, the Commission has made a critical oversight. They failed to acknowledge that all marketing to children is potentially harmful to children's health.

It's not about health, is it? It's about capitalism.

...researchers and policy makers must shift the focus from merely the so-called unhealthy products that are being marketed to children and towards all products and industries—food, toys, clothing, technology, sports equipment, entertainment, and more.

He wants no advertising of anything ever because 'marketing strategies in general shape children's emotional, mental, and spiritual selves', which he evidently thinks is a job best left to progressive academics. 

Aghast at being out-woked, the Commission has written back to insist that they are on the same wavelength. They are just being strategic.

We thank Darren Powell for his insightful feedback. Members of the WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission agree with Powell that marketing of any products to children might encourage potentially harmful consumption for the child, the planet, and children's futures, and that more work in both academic and political spheres is needed to highlight the risks.
... Our proposal to add an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on commercial marketing of harmful products was designed to serve as a first step in protecting children from those who would sell them a lifetime of ill health.
... Beginning with overt threats to physical and mental health would seem wise. It will be hard enough to tackle opposition from corporations promoting health-harming products. Imagine trying to fight opposition from a large coalition of companies that range from toys and games to technology and household products.
Don't say you weren't warned, toy, game, technology and household product manufacturers.

Monday 30 November 2020

What's the evidence for destroying the pub trade?

In its efforts to justify carpet-bombing the nation’s pubs, Sage have cobbled together a handful of studies to give it the veneer of science. None of the studies suggest that pubs or bars are uniquely dangerous, many of them don’t mention pubs or bars at all, and most of them involve outbreaks in Asia in the early days of the pandemic when there was little or no social distancing. 

Sage refuse to acknowledge the drop in infections in places like Manchester and Newcastle under the old Tier 2 rules. They do not even attempt to justify the plan to require meals to be served with drinks. This policy alone will lead to the unnecessary closure of thousands of ‘wet pubs’ and other licensed venues, such as snooker halls and casinos. Businesses which could be operating safely will be forced to furlough their workforce and accept government grants to stand idle. Who benefits from such wilful destruction? 

I've been looking at the evidence...   

The new tier system will close or severely incapacitate pubs in the 99% of the country that will be in Tiers 2 and 3. This amounts to carpet bombing the pub trade. Some 25,000 hospitality venues have closed permanently this year and 30,000 have yet to reopen. Although grants are available to businesses that are rendered temporarily unviable by the tier restrictions, these often fall short of what is needed to pay rent, debt, taxes and other costs.

Since the hospitality industry is Britain’s third biggest employer, with 3.2 million workers before the pandemic hit, you might expect the Government’s evidence to be strong. It is anything but. On Friday, the Government published a short policy paper titled ‘Transmission risk in the hospitality sector’ which ignores all the counter-measures introduced to make hospitality venues low-risk, and relies on a handful of studies cobbled together by SAGE which have no relevance to the British pub trade as it currently operates.


Thursday 26 November 2020

An awkward study about minimum pricing

There's a study about minimum pricing in pre-print at the Lancet looking at the impact of minimum pricing on alcohol-related A & E attendances. A glance at its (many) authors suggests that they were hoping to find a drop in attendances after minimum pricing was introduced.

Alas for them, they didn't.

The study looks at 8,746 people who attended A & E in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Sheffield, the latter two being the control groups. All the subjects were interviewed by nurses and the study looks at the 'changes in the proportion of attendees with alcohol-related attendance in Scotland and England before and after the introduction of the MUP'.   

They found that the trend was stable in Scotland but fell in England. Awkward. They also found that binge-drinking among A & E attendees rose in Scotland but decreased in England. Oops. Furthermore...

Based on marginal analysis, it is estimated that an additional 1.0% (95% CI -0.7% to 2.7%) of the ED [emergency department] attendances were alcohol-related than would have been the case in the absence of MUP.

We estimated that approximately 258 attendances at ED were alcohol-related as a result of the introduction of MUP (95% CI -191 to 707).

Here's how this looks in graphs:

The real fun comes when the authors try to dismiss and downplay their own findings.
In summary, we did not find evidence for the introduction of MUP in Scotland impacting on alcohol-related harms within the ED setting. 
You did though, didn't you? Just nor in the direction you expected.

However, the broader evidence base is more consistent with an effect of MUP on both alcohol consumption and harms.

Ah, the broader evidence base! The one that consists of theoretical models and wishful thinking. 

This study is part of a wider evaluation programme coordinated by Public Health Scotland to inform the decision by the Scottish Parliament as to whether they will vote for MUP to continue following the sixth year of implementation. Therefore, we should interpret the results with caution and should not draw conclusions regarding the wider societal impact of MUP on alcohol harm purely based on this study.

Can you imagine them saying this if the study had found that minimum pricing was associated with a decline in alcohol-related A & E attendances? Such uncharacteristic humility! But at least they're honest about why they're being so modest - it's pure politics.

It will be interesting to see how this study looks once the reviewers have stuck their oar in - or if the Lancet decides not to publish such an inconvenient piece of research after all.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Alcohol-related deaths fall in Scotland

Last week, I reported that Scotland's alcohol-related hospital admissions rose in 2018 and barely moved in 2019. This is noteworthy because minimum pricing was introduced in May 2018 and was supposed to reduce them. 

Yesterday, the National Records of Scotland published the alcohol-related mortality statistics for 2019 and it's better news for minimum pricing advocates. After rising in 2018, the number of deaths fell in 2019, from 1,136 to 1,020. Naturally, the Scottish Government and its pressure groups are chalking this up as a win, and 2019 has been hastily redefined as 'the first year of minimum pricing'
The decline represents a 9% fall since 2017 or a 10% fall since 2018, depending on how you look at it. This is by no means unprecedented. Numbers fell by 10% in 2006-07 and in 2008-09, and by 15% in 2011-12. Nevertheless, it at least consistent with the view that minimum pricing reduces alcohol-related mortality. If the numbers had risen again, it would have been difficult for the temperance lobby to claim success.

Pete Whitehouse, director of Statistical Services says...
"...although an annual decrease of this magnitude is notable, further data will be required to see if this reduction continues and whether we will see a sustained shift in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland.”

The Sheffield model predicts that alcohol-related deaths will keep falling and Peter Rice, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, is quite sure that there will. He says "we would expect even bigger decreases in years two and three."
We'll see about that. We'll also see what happened in England in 2019 when the figures for the rest of Britain are published next month. When I got hold of the monthly figures for 2018, I found that there was a 7% decline in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland between May and December. On the face of it, it looked like minimum pricing was having an impact, but it turned out that England and Wales also saw a 7% decline in the same period.   

Watch this space.

Monday 23 November 2020

Silly Sally Davies

Former Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies reared her head again last week (she ha a book out). She's still obsessed with food portion sizes. I wrote about it for Cap-X...

Public trust in the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, may have taken a knock during the pandemic, but the Government was fortunate to have a relative unknown in the post when the daily briefings began in March. How much worse it would have been for the credibility of official health advice if his predecessor, Professor Dame Sally Davies, had still been in charge.


Thursday 19 November 2020

The future of pubs, if they have one

I'm chairing an online panel discussion tonight about how to get the hospitality industry reopened and how to keep it open. The government seems to have taken the view that COVID-19 is an alcohol-related disease and pubs are the vector. 

The psychotic charlatans at SAGE appear to want a permanent lockdown so Boris Johnson's solemn promise to reopen the economy on 2 December can't be taken too seriously. How many pubs, hotels and restaurants will the government sacrifice in the next months?

We've got a great panel, including Dehenna Davison MP (Conservative Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland), Tim Martin (Chairman, JD Wetherspoon), Dan Mobley (Corporate Relations Director, Diageo) and Kate Nicholls (Chief Executive Officer, UK Hospitality).

Tune in on YouTube at 6.30pm. If you miss it, the video should be below later.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Another minimum pricing fail

Lockdowns and pub closures are going to play havoc with the minimum pricing evaluation in 2020/21, but we will still have two years of data with which to assess the policy. Today saw the publication of alcohol-related hospital admission figures for 2019/20 in Scotland. As with the previous year's figures, they give supporters of minimum pricing nothing to cheer.
The most recent edition of the Sheffield model predicted 1,299 fewer admissions in the first year (a decline of around 4%), rising year-on-year thereafter.

The prediction for the first year fell flat, with the number of admissions rising from 35,544 to 35,712 between 2017/18 and 2018/19. To be fair, minimum pricing was introduced in May so one of the 2018/19 months was pre-MUP, but the number of admissions rose again - to 35,781 - in 2019/20, so that is no excuse. 

Adjusted for population, the rate has dropped very slightly, from 668.8 per 100,000 people in 2017/18 to 666.6 per 100,000 people in 2019/20; a decline of 0.3% in two years.

Not quite the game-changing policy we were led to believe, then. And it is costing Scottish consumers tens of millions of pounds a year.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Boris's bonkers food advertising ban

The government has published its consultation on banning online advertising for so-called 'junk food'. Once again, civil servants have been put in the position of having to turn a simplistic idea from the 'public health' lobby into a workable policy. It's an impossible job. The idea was sold to politicians as a way of reducing children's 'exposure' to KFC and McDonald's adverts, but there is no way of clamping down on food that snobs don't like without impacting food that most people consider normal, even healthy. Nor is there a way of sticking it to big business without sticking it to small business (as the hilarious Farmdrop episode showed).
Since the Farmdrop farce, the government has slightly amended its definition of 'junk food' for the purpose of its new bans. Instead of including all HFSS (high in fat, sugar or salt) food, it now intends to include all foods that are classified as HFSS and are part of Public Health England's food reformulation programmes. This excludes a few products that cannot possibly be reformulated, such as olive oil and raisins, but not many.
The sugar reduction programme includes pretty much anything with added sugar in it: cakes, biscuits, jam, pastries, ice cream, yoghurts, cereals, desserts, etc. while the calorie reduction programme includes:
•bread with additions (eg olives, cheese etc.)
•crisps and savoury snacks
•savoury biscuits, crackers and crispbreads
•potato products (eg chips, croquettes, mashed potato etc.)
•sausages (raw and cooked) and sausage meat products, frankfurters and hotdogs, burgers
•meat, fish and vegetarian pastry pies and other pastry products
•cooking sauces and pastes
•table sauces and dressings
•pasta/rice/noodles with added ingredients and flavours
•ready meals with carbohydrate accompaniment (potato, rice, noodles, pasta, etc.) – fish, meat and meat alternatives
•meal centres without carbohydrate accompaniment (potato, rice, noodles, pasta, etc.) – fish, meat and meat alternatives
•prepared dips and composite salads as meal accompaniments (eg. coleslaw, potato salad, guacamole, salsa etc.)
•egg products/dishes (eg quiche)
• food to go eg sandwiches, boxed main meal salads etc
Quite extensive, then. 

The government originally planned to ban the promotion of these products online before 9pm, but it has now decided to ban it entirely. So if you make sausages, pies, jam or cakes for a living, how do you market your wares on the primary advertising medium of the 21st century?

You won't be able to, basically. The ad ban being proposed is more extensive than anything tried elsewhere in the world. It covers all social media, all commercial websites and even your own website, emails and text messages.

The scope of the restriction would include, but is not limited to, for example:

  • commercial email, commercial text messaging and other messaging services
  • marketers' activities in non-paid for space, for example on their website and on social media, where the marketer has editorial and/or financial control over the content
  • online display ads in paid-for space (including banner ads and pre/mid-roll video ads)
  • paid-for search listings; preferential listings on price comparison sites
  • viral advertisements (where content is considered to have been created by the marketer or a third party paid by the marketer or acting under the editorial control of the marketer, with the specific intention of being widely shared. Not content solely on the grounds it has gone viral)
  • paid-for advertisements on social media channels - native content, influencers etc
  • in-game advertisements
  • commercial classified advertisements
  • advertisements which are pushed electronically to devices
  • advertisements distributed through web widgets
  • in-app advertising or apps intended to advertise
  • advergames
  • advertorials

If you're in the wedding cake business, for example, you can forget about putting a banner ad on the website of your local newspaper. If you run a café and want to email your customers about your tasty desserts, you won't be able to. If you own a bakery and want to climb the Google search results for 'cakes' in your area, you'll be breaking the law.

It is extraordinary that the government is proposing a ban on companies advertising on their own websites and in their own emails. However, it has benevolently offered an exemption for 'factual claims'.

We recognise that companies should be able to make available factual information about their products. Therefore we propose that advertisers remain able to feature such information on their own websites or other non-paid-for space online under their control, including their own social media channels.

We consider that factual claims include but are not limited to:

  • the names of products
  • nutritional information
  • price statements
  • product ingredients
  • name and contact details of the advertiser
  • provenance of ingredients
  • health warnings and serving recommendations
  • availability or location of products
  • corporate information on, for example, the sales performance of a product
This is rather like France's alcohol advertising ban which allows a certain amount of advertising so long as the copy is limited to the name, price and origin of the product. A factual claim, such as a list of ingredients, is distinct from a promotional claim, such as 'delicious' or 'bargain'. The latter will be banned under the Conservatives, the alleged party of business. On commercial platforms, even factual claims will be banned.
The government seems to have been inspired by the EU's ban on e-cigarette advertising under which "factual claims about products [are] permitted on marketers’ own websites and, in certain circumstances, in other non-paid-for space online under the marketer’s control." The consultation document acknowledges the "regulatory challenges arising from having to make a distinction between factual claims and promotional claims" and explicitly mentions the e-cigarette ad ban and several Advertising Standards Authority rulings that have resulted from it. It is worth reading those rulings if you want an idea of how strict the rules on food advertising are going to be. 
The government is shafting broadcasters with its TV advertising ban and now it is shafting online platforms and countless food producers up and down the country. And for what? The government hasn't produced an Impact Assessment for the round-the-clock online ad ban, but its previous Impact Assessment estimated that an online ban between 5.30am and 9pm would reduce children's energy intake by 0.3 calories per day - and even that pathetic outcome is based on junk science from proponents of the ban.
This is madness. I don't know how the government have allowed this to snowball like it has, but it's their problem now. It is a mess of their own making. They allowed policy to be formulated by fanatical single-issue pressure groups and this is the dog's dinner they've been left with.

Contrary to what I said above, the government has produced a new Impact Assessment. Conveniently, the Department of Health claims to have dramatically underestimated the amount of HFSS advertising seen by kids in its previous Impact Assessment. 

We now estimate around 15.1 billion child HFSS impressions online in the UK in 2019, up from our original estimate of 0.7 billion in 2017. This significant uplift is due to methodological changes in how the size of the online is estimated.
This allows the government to increase the putative benefit of the policy. Whereas before it claimed that children would reduce their energy intake by a risible 0.3 calories a day, it now claims the online ban will reduce it by a negligible 2.8 calories a day.

Whether they underestimated this 'exposure' by 90 per cent last time of have inflated it twenty-fold this time, it doesn't inspire much confidence in the Department of Health's competence.

(The government has also slightly increased its estimate of how many calories kids consume as a result of seeing HFSS ads, even though there is no decent evidence that they consume any more and the studies that they do are low quality. The meta-analysis the government is relying on is garbage.)

Friday 6 November 2020

Last Orders with Dan Hannan

The new episode of Last Orders features Daniel Hannan. We discuss the evidence-free second lockdown, Scotland's clampdown on free speech and Brexit.

Listen here.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Why does the government hate pubs?

For some reason, the government has decided to ban pubs from selling takeaway alcohol in Lockdown 2. When asked about this is parliament yesterday, Boris Johnson gave a weak answer that suggests he was winging it. 

Boris Johnson says a number of measures are needed to reduce the infection rate and adds "when you start unpicking one bit a lot of the rest of it comes out".

It's another senseless attacks on pubs. I've written about it for the Morning Advertiser and argue that it's time for MPs to be barred. Have a read.

Monday 2 November 2020

Some sensible and realistic Brexit reforms

The New Nicotine Alliance has written to Jo Churchill (public health minister) and Munira Mirza (director of the No 10 Policy Unit) calling for some sensible reforms once Britain is no longer tied to EU rules next year. They are as follows: 

1. Lift the ban on oral tobacco (snus) and properly regulate all smokeless tobacco

2. Raise the limit on nicotine concentration in vaping liquids to allow vaping products to compete more effectively with cigarettes

3. Replace bans on advertising of vaping products on TV, radio, internet and in publications with controls on themes and placement

4. Replace blanket bans on advertising of low-risk tobacco products with controls on themes and placement

5. Replace excessive and inappropriate warnings on vaping products with risk communications that encourage smokers to try switching

6. Replace excessive and inappropriate warnings on non-combustible tobacco products

7. Allow and enable candid communication of relative risk to consumers

8. Adopt a fresh approach to pack inserts for both vaping products and cigarettes to encourage switching to lower risk products

9. Remove wasteful restrictions on vaping product tank and e-liquid container size that have no discernible purpose

10. Recognise and regulate novel oral nicotine products

Nothing to disagree with there. I would only add that the government should also get rid of the (UK) legislation that bans retailers from suggesting reduced risk products to smokers. I only became aware of this law recently. Presumably, it was introduced to stop retailers encouraging people to take up 'light' cigarettes. At the very least, it could be redrafted to ensure shopkeepers don't get in trouble for recommending vapes, heated tobacco, snus etc. to confirmed smokers.

The NNA fleshes out the rationale for these reforms at length in its letter which you can read here.

Friday 30 October 2020

The "whole systems approach" to obesity is anti-scientific garbage


Dolly Theis has written a three part article about what the government should do about obesity, as if it's any of their business. Dolly is a well meaning Conservative who has fallen in with a bad crowd as a result of doing a PhD in 'public health'. I was on a Spectator panel with her recently discussing the nanny state, along with Steve Brine and Joanna Williams (you can watch it here). 
Theis's thesis is that successive governments have failed to reduce obesity because of poor implementation and evaluation. She makes the improbable claim that 700 anti-obesity policies have been proposed in Britain in the last thirty years.

[The government] currently proposes obesity policies in a way that does not readily lead to implementation, which is likely to be why it does not then implement its own policies. Could you imagine the same happening in business? No, you couldn’t imagine that because it just wouldn’t happen.

There's a simple explanation for that. Businesses respond to what people want whereas the government responds to fanatical single-issue pressure groups and half-witted academics. The policies they propose are, by and large, unworkable, ineffective and go against what people want. Sometimes they encounter equally clueless politicians, such as the aforementioned Steve Brine, who embrace these bad policies because it makes them feel important. That's where the problems begin.
For example, banning 'junk food' advertising and forcing calorie counts in the out-of-home sector sound like great ideas to illiberal politicians until it is explained to them that there is no legal definition of 'junk food' and that many restaurants change their menus on a daily basis. 
When the costs and unintended consequences of such policies are laid out, politicians have no choice but to do a U-turn or water down them down. They should really think through the implications before they announce them, but they naively think that the likes of Action on Sugar are experts on policy. 

In some cases, policies are reproposed in a laughably short amount of time. For example, Chapter 2 of Childhood obesity: A plan for action was published in 2018 under Theresa May. It contained a number of policies, including a 9pm watershed on unhealthy food and drink advertising, and committed to legislating mandatory calorie labelling in the out of home sector.

Consultations were conducted. Individuals and organisations submitted their evidence, reflections and advice. Then poof! Two years later, instead of having implemented the policies, the Government, now under Boris Johnson, publishes another obesity strategy containing those exact same policies and another consultation process.

They say madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, hello…

The Childhood Obesity Strategy is a perfect case in point. David Cameron capitulated to the nanny state imbeciles on a range of tobacco-style regulations for food, but then resigned. Under Theresa May, Fiona Hill got rid of the worst of them, but she then lost her job and May reinstated them in a futile attempt to appease the 'public health' industry. May was then replaced by Johnson who rightly saw the nanny state as unconservative and kicked them into the long grass, but after 'long Covid' messed with his mind, he brought them back. As a result, Whitehall bureaucrats are once again saddled with their absurdities and are trying to limit the damage these daft policies will do. 

Yes, it's messy, but it's politics and the last few years have been unusually turbulent. With Brexit and COVID-19, the government would be quite entitled to bin the whole lot on the grounds that it has better things to do than ban supermarkets from placing sausages at the end of aisles.

Three cheers from anyone not keen on government regulation and legislation. But, hold on! Don’t get too carried away – because government proposes policies in such a way that does not readily lead to high compliance. The result is that sectors don’t do enough or don’t do anything at all, so government is pushed more and more into the regulation and legislation corner.
I assume this is principally a reference to the 'voluntary' food reformulation scheme, one of the most ridiculous projects any government has instigated in my lifetime. I put the speech marks around the word 'voluntary' because, as Dolly makes clear, it came with the threat of regulation if the companies didn't comply. 
The reformulation scheme is the perfect example of a hare-brained idea from gormless 'public health' activists. The government committed to it without giving any serious thought to how companies could take arbitrary quantities of fat, sugar, salt and calories out of food or what they could be replaced with. When it was explained to Public Health England that you simply cannot take sugar out of confectionery, for example, the goalposts were quietly moved to allow companies to shrink their products instead. That's not really 'reformulation'. As Josie Appleton has shown, PHE had no idea about such basic facts as jam having to have a contain amount of sugar to be legally sold as jam. 
The hilarious failure of the sugar reduction scheme, in particular, shows what happens when 'public health' ideologues are given free rein. The idea that it would work if the government explicitly introduced coercion is absurd. You can force companies to produce tasteless rubbish, but you can't make people buy it. You might as well pass a law telling water to run uphill.

[The government] should escalate to suggesting those actions to the responsible actor(s)/sector(s). Governments can name and shame, depending on progress, and state how they will move to more deterrence measures (e.g. taxation, laws, etc) if not enough progress is made.

As a last resort, an actor(s)/sector(s) could be fully incapacitated where action/inaction is deemed harmful.

Behold the progressive new Conservative Party! 

The problem of evaluation is addressed in achieving compliance, but I will make the point again here just in case. Policies should always be evaluated, ideally by an independent body.

I agree. Presumably, therefore, Dolly strongly objects to the sugar levy being evaluated by a bunch of academics who are staunch supporters of the tax, including several whose professional reputations depend on it being seen to be a success and one who believes that God literally told him to bring about a sugar tax in England. She must also object to the smoking ban being evaluated by an anti-smoking crusader (it had no impact on pubs, she reckons) and the salt reduction scheme being evaluated by the chairman of Action on Salt

This is quite obviously a racket. Could it be that if these policies were independently audited, they would be shown to be a waste of time and money?

Government must stop this. How is it supposed to know whether something worked if it is not evaluated properly? We also do not always have high-quality evidence about certain interventions and, in some cases, can only build this by introducing the intervention first.

I don't know about that. We don't licence medicines or perform surgery without evidence of efficacy. We have randomised controlled trials showing that food reformulation doesn't work, plenty of evidence that plain packaging doesn't work and masses of evidence that banning fast food shops near homes and schools doesn't work. The 'public health' industry still pushes ahead with such policies because it uses evidence like a drunk uses a lamppost. It is driven by hunches and dogma, not science. 

For example, to really know what the impact will be of a taxation policy such as the sugar tax, government must first introduce it, and then monitor the various impacts closely over time in order to build high-quality evidence.

Or you could use real world evidence from places that already have sugar taxes, but if you did that you'd have to concede that they don't work either.  

Government must therefore be bold in introducing interventions that have the potential to make it easier for us to live a healthier life, and then build the evidence through high quality evaluations.

The strategy of throwing any old policy into the mix in the hope that some of them will work is known euphemistically in 'public health' as the 'whole systems approach'. It is often illustrated with meaningless graphics and is anti-scientific, illiberal nonsense. Essentially, it gives activists a licence to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. 
If anti-obesity policies are necessary at all - a question Dolly never really addresses - they should follow the same best practice we expect in other policy areas. Gather the evidence and evaluate the costs and benefits, including - crucially - the costs to wellbeing. The last thing we need is a million 'public health' monkeys bashing away on a million typewriters in the hope of finally coming up with something that works.