They’re at it again! Who? The Nanny State Police, those guardians of our wellbeing who appear to consider us complete idiots incapable of looking after ourselves responsibly. They’re out in force. And super-nanny Mary Poppins had better watch out with her spoonfuls of sugar and the like.
My ire was provoked by reading two recommendations, some time apart, regarding the packaging of things that are bad for us. Most recently it was sweets and chocolate bars. So dangerous are these to our health, so potentially injurious, that we are told government should insist on health warnings on them. The point is, according to University of Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz, an expert on the brain and rewards, that we can’t resist those bright wrappers.
Others jump on the bandwagon. It’s not enough to have plain wrapping that won’t excite our over-suggestible brains. Consequent, rather predictable, proposals emerge that we should put health warnings on sweets and chocolate bars.
So what would we put on our favourite Twix or KitKat? Oi! Parents of fat children, beware! Also obese adults. Eating this chocolate bar may harm your health!
Maybe it would have to be as stark as the gruesome warning they (rightly) put on cigarettes: chocolate kills!
Only it doesn’t, of course. Nor does alcohol. It’s some months now since I came across a similar suggestion that bottle labels should warn purchasers of the perils of drinking wine. Already we have Drink Aware notes on the back of bottles, reminding us of what the alcoholic strength means and how many units there are in a bottle. I guess that’s fair enough: we should deceive ourselves neither about our overall intake nor about the effect on us of however many units we’ve consumed over a heavy lunch.
But we don’t need a warning on a bottle of wine or beer telling us that it will kill us – because, of course, it won’t, unless we consistently binge on the stuff.
Am I just making a fuss? Perhaps. Yet this is crazy. Why would we want to put health warnings on chocolate bars – or, indeed, simply make them as plain, bland and boring? Will children really be less attracted, less likely to grab chubby armfuls of Crunchie bars and stuff them into their obese faces as they wend their wobbly way to school?
Probably not. There is a perverse tendency in the young to be attracted to what appears forbidden fruit. Put stern warnings on miserably packaged snack bars and you might just find they become more irresistible to the young, not less.
So what about health? Of course it’s unhealthy to eat too much chocolate, just as it is to consume too much booze. But there’s nothing intrinsically harmful in eating one chocolate bar, or (so the doctors assure us) enjoying a glass of red wine. Both are actually therapeutic – if you read the right reports, at any rate.
Whereas even one single cigarette will truly take minutes off your life. There is nothing but harm in cigarettes, nothing wholesome or good whatsoever: that is not true of chocolate or wine, which are harmful only in excess.
But we don’t need the nanny state, nor those who set themselves up to police it, slapping warning labels on anything that, if we consume too much of it, will be detrimental to our wellbeing. I presume that, if one ate too much lettuce, even that might do some damage. I haven’t yet found a study of that particular problem, but who knows? It might come if we wait long enough.
My point is this. Children can make choices: if they’re making wrong ones, well, they have parents to guide them. Let’s treat people as intelligent, thinking beings, not as idiots: and we have (sadly) to accept that, in any case, some people will tread a self-destructive path whatever we do to stop them.
Just a spoonful of sugar? Wash your mouth out! That Mary Poppins, what did she know? Any proper nanny would have locked away all the chocolate, emptied Mr Banks’s booze cabinet down the sink, and sent the children to bed with nothing more than a carrot stick. Now, that would have been proper nannying.
Poppins, you’re fired!