Food Policy

Will 'Frenzied Hectoring' by British Food Nannies Never End?

British health officials are ready to tax tasty food out off shelves.


In December, England's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, urged the nation to adopt still more "taxes on unhealthy food high in sugar and salt." This was just months after England's soda tax took hold.

"Those sectors that damage health must pay for their harm or subsidise healthier choices," Davies says in a report that suggests the tax money should be used to underwrite purchases of fruits and vegetables.

Davies's argument came just days after details of a draft British government proposal to institute byzantine calorie restrictions on a variety of foods.

"Calorie limits will be imposed on thousands of foods sold in supermarkets and restaurants in a bid to combat obesity," The Telegraph reported on Christmas day. "Draft proposals seen by The Telegraph set out detailed caps for ready meals, sandwiches[,] and even portions of vegetables served across the country."

The British government also took the Christmas season as an opportunity to share what Express writer Leo McKinstry said amounted to "guidance on how to reduce the size of the main Christmas meal, with nannying advice on the number of turkey slices and roast potatoes that is nutritionally acceptable." (McKinstry said these "state-appointed killjoys" viewed the holiday season as little more than "an opportunity for yet more frenzied hectoring.")

Taken as a whole, these government proposals are intended, supporters argue, to combat rising levels of obesity. Proponents suggest we need government to tell us what and how to eat because we just can't help ourselves.

Sally Davies. Credit Rob Pinney/ZUMA Press/Newscom

"The free-will question needs turning on its head," wrote Sonia Sodha in The Guardian last month. What does Sodha's upside-down willpower argument look like?

"There's no free choice about the [food] industry reshaping our tastes to benefit its profit margins without us even realizing," writes Sodha, who goes on to suggest that "some" "libertarians" "perhaps" share "a disdain for people just too greedy to leave some of their dinner on their plate." (I was taught to clean my plate and to avoid straw man arguments.)

Critics of the British government's plans aren't taking the proposals sitting down.

Telegraph writer Tom Harris says Davies, Britain's chief medical officer, who proudly dubbed herself "chief nanny," is "'chief nanny' of a state that draws uniquely smug pleasure from lecturing the poor."

Spiked's Rob Lyons warns of the consequences of Britain's nanny state coming after your booze, soda, and chocolates.

"The real victim has been our ability to choose what we want to drink for ourselves—all to satisfy the health zealots, while achieving nothing," he writes.

If Britain's waistlines have become bloated, so too, critics note, have the salaries of those who've watched those waistlines expand under their watch. The Nanny State Rich List 2018, a damning new report from the TaxPayers' Alliance, a British nonprofit watchdog, found hundreds of public health officials across the country earned six-figure salaries. That includes two leading health agency staffers who earned salaries in excess of more than $375,000 last year.

If it sounds to you like Great Britain is in the midst of a grand debate over food and the nanny state, you're right. But these debates are neither new nor uniquely British.

I've studied such policies for years and found evidence of their success to be lacking. Denmark repealed its ineffective fat tax. New York City's soda ban was overturned by a court. Minneapolis's plans to force corner stores to sell more fruits and vegetables backfired. Los Angeles's ban on new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles failed to make people healthier.

Will Britain's plans to regulate the country to better eating habits and health succeed? It sure doesn't seem likely.

Take those plans to restrict calories in any given meal sold. "You can just buy more food," Scott Shackford wrote last week. He's right, of course. It's that simple. And yet something tells me some overpaid public health official in Britain is burning the midnight oil right now trying to figure out a way to close that loophole.

NEXT: The Case of the Notorious RBG

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  1. That is absolutely insane! How does anyone actually put up with such a patronizing and infantilizing nanny state? Although, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if such ideas took hold over here. Just look at Michelle Obama’s school lunch tyranny…

    1. Your handle is already the link you manually enter in the comment body. Shilling like that reinforces the idea that you are just a spammer.

      1. You’re supposed to be libertarian, no?
        Live and let live.
        Get over it.

      2. I’ll take Tony’s comments over this shrill cunt any day.

        1. I’m finding it all rather entertaining, she’s like the Billy Mays of the Reason comment section.

  2. This is exactly what you would expect to accompany universal health care. If the state provides health care then the public has given them the excuse to regulate anything that effects health. One of many negative logical outcomes of socialism for anyone who likes freedom and personal autonomy

    1. Not just the state. The trap has been set. If I am forced to pay for your health care, you’d better damn well believe I am going to force you to eat broccoli and show up for jazzercise.

      1. Exactly. The focus on the collective removes individual responsibility and autonomy. It is disappointing how lazy, stupid, and irresponsible so many people are

    2. Also people no longer care about their own health. Why not eat whatever you want and get fat? They think they don’t have to worry because the state will pay for any health consequences. It becomes a game of arbitraging the system. People literally compete with each other to see who can mine the most ‘value’ from the system.

    3. What I find interesting is how recent a lot of the nanny-state health stuff in Europe is. They’ve had the big welfare state thing for a long time, but it seems relatively recent that they really got going on things like smoking bans and food stuff like this. They still seem pretty relaxed about alcohol, but I expect that will change too, especially in the UK (though maybe not, that could be the line that people won’t allow to be crossed).

  3. Mums wants to comfort you with a nice tea and buttered scone.

  4. “In December, England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, urged the nation to adopt still more “taxes on unhealthy food high in sugar and salt.” This was just months after England’s soda tax took hold.”

    Yeah, Brit food is entirely too tasty as it is.

    1. I actually like British food. But without all the salt and fat it would be pretty awful.

  5. I spent a month in London a little over a year ago. London is a food utopia. Lots of great, healthy food choices. For example Tescos and Sainsburys have literally a hundred varieties of sandwiches on the store shelves. It’s sad they would try to undermine this. Also another thing I noticed is that portion sizes for snacks are smaller. Food is expensive, and these proposals would only worsen the situation. It will cause inflation, and then people will cry that the poor “don’t have enough money to live” and then increase welfare. Their goal is to make everyone dependent on the state and if anyone complains, accuse them of autism or psychosis (mental illness hysteria is off the charts in the UK) and get them institutionalized. It’s just so ironic because they are the ones who warned us about this.

  6. “Calorie limits will be imposed on thousands of foods sold in supermarkets and restaurants in a bid to combat obesity,…”

    Market opportunity: Sale XXL yellow vests.

  7. The fee market can’t stop people from being big fat asses. Obviously, or there wouldn’t be so many fat asses. That’s why we need government.

    But, you can’t let government be decided by big fat asses. Look at them: slobs. You start letting them make decisions, and they’ll decide everyone needs to be a big fat ass.

    So, the answer is a small minority of elite policy makers to make all the majority of fat asses get thin, regardless of what they want.

    I like democracy. Do you?
    That’s how democracy works.

  8. And those of us who aren’t fat-asses and don’t have hypertension can just eat bland food and starve. For the public good.

  9. I, for one, look forward to the logical conclusion: forced calorie counting.

    1. Virtue rationing!

  10. Make Britain Great Again!

    If unpalatable muck was good enough for those who built the Empire, it is good enough for today’s cossetted generation.

    Saki’s satire on food scolds a century ago:…..lStu.shtml

  11. “Those sectors that damage health must pay for their harm or subsidise healthier choices,”

    Poor Brits. Unlike Philadelphians, they can’t just drive a few extra miles to get around the tax.

  12. And is Sally Davies any relation to Ray and Dave?

  13. The UK government is obese with overpaid bureaucrats like Davies.

    But this is par for the course for Britain. They’ve given up on liberty since the early 20th century.

  14. Ration books for everyone. 1600 cal/day max. Plus new exercise books where you need a signoff each day from a licensed physical exercise specialist that you have actually expended all of those calories.

  15. Out law restaurants and grocery stores. Everyone has to eat in government cafeterias, with no choice of what is on the tray. Delivery to the disabled, who must eat while the delivery driver/monitor is present. To get into the cafeteria, you have to go through a gym and get a pass from the trainer, certifying exercise appropriate to age and condition has been completed. Done. Complete and total control of the citizenry.

  16. Breakfast cereal was invented by Mr Kellogg as a “health food” to combat the standard sausage-based breakfast. Lard was once called a health food. Salt restrictions can damage your health if you really follow that rule (only people with severe high blood pressure or kidney problems should restrict salt). Advice to not eat eggs and dairy has been rescinded. ie health advice changes like the weather or is simply wrong, so what makes the nannies right this time? If most people are food idiots, why should we trust the nannies? Are they not people too?

    In a world where pleasure is king, why not get fat? Whose business is it?

    One of the big problems with Michelle Obama’s school lunches was fixed portions: the same for the 110lb girl and the 220lb football player who plans to go do a workout after school. Also food waste went up because it was inedible.

  17. Ration books for everyone. 1600 cal/day max. Plus new exercise books where you need a signoff each day from a licensed physical exercise specialist that you have actually expended all of those calories.

  18. You mean to tell me the British are making their food worse? On purpose?

    Can’t make this shit up.

  19. “I’ve studied such policies for years and found evidence of their success to be lacking.”

    So what? Even if they worked would you then change your stance and support them?

    What if you were shown evidence that waterboarding was effective at gaining useful intelligence? Would you support that too?

    These policies, and especially the stick of enforcement that comes with them, are wrong.

    Nothing more need be said.

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