By Max Minkin
In recent decades, what is commonly known as the “nanny state” has expanded quite significantly; from the introduction of mandatory seat belt legislation in 1983 to the indoor smoking ban of 2007, it seems undeniable that the state has taken a more active role in protecting people from themselves as well as those around them.
While some have decried these measures as unacceptable infringements on individual liberty, others have dismissed these concerns — with Margaret Hodge famously saying, “some may call it the nanny state, but I call it a force for good”. And, given what we now know about the overwhelmingly positive impact of at least some of the measures, it really is rather difficult to argue with her.
However, it is this very fact that the state has been so bold (and successful) when it comes to road safety and smoking that makes it utterly mind-boggling as to why so little has been done to discourage the consumption of one of the most destructive drugs of all: sugar.
While sugar might be associated in many of our minds with pleasure and joy, the simple fact is that its impact on individuals and society is profoundly damaging. With over two-thirds of Brits either overweight or obese, the country is experiencing what can only be described as an obesity epidemic — and, as the NHS points out, excessive sugar consumption is one of its main driving factors.
The essential problem is that sugar (particularly the refined sugar found in sweet drinks and snacks) provides little to no healthy nutrients while containing gargantuan amounts of calories — and, unlike fat, it is not particularly satiating, meaning that it is incredibly easy to overeat, which leads to calorie surpluses and, therefore, weight gain.
Obesity, of course, is not a problem in itself. What matters is the side effects that it creates. Heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and stroke are amongst its main risks — and studies show that it can take as many as eight years off a person’s life. In addition to all of this, many scientists have argued that Britain’s high death toll from the coronavirus pandemic was fuelled in large part by its obesity problem, which demonstrates just how overarching and extensive the effects of the problem are.
So why has so little be done to discourage the consumption of sugar, given how destructive its effects have been in undermining people’s quality of life and putting pressure on the health service? The sugar tax, while a good start, does not go nearly far enough — as shown by the fact that sugar consumption has actually continued to rise in recent years.
The only solution to the problem of excessive sugar consumption seems to be a tax that is high enough to either force companies to completely abandon sugar or to make it practically unaffordable for consumers. Some may argue that this is extreme, but the reality is that there are many alternatives to sugar — and quite a few of them taste exactly the same as the real thing. Erythritol, for instance, contains very few calories and has negligible effects on blood glucose levels — so, is it really extreme to suggest that it should replace sugar? Is there any sound reason for us to continue allowing our society to become less and less healthy, while there is no good reason for it other than the profits of large corporations and the complaints of “classical liberals”?
With all this in mind, one does have to ask oneself: “where is the nanny state when we really need it?” Why aren’t our leaders doing more to end — or at the very least drastically reduce — the consumption of sugar? I strongly urge you to pose these questions to your local MP whenever you have the opportunity.
Image: Daniel Horacio Agostini via Creative Commons