When the government announced a cull of quangos back in 2010, one of the 192 bodies on its hit list was the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. Somehow, along with several others, it has survived.
“The shoplifter could blame the shop for displaying tempting items”
Since the formation of Public Health England over a year ago, however, SACN’s continued existence has looked tenuous. The same thought may well have occurred to its members, which could be why we have seen more bursts of activity recently.
The noise about SACN’s report on sugar, published in June, is a case in point. Its conclusion that ‘energy consumption in excess of requirements can lead to excess weight gain over time’ is hardly news. Nor would most people quibble with its observation that ‘there are many complex behavioural and societal factors contributing to the causes of obesity.’ What turned this into headline material was SACN’s decision to focus not on sugar as such but on sugar-sweetened drinks, which it suggested were a proven cause of weight gain in children and adolescents.
Presumably at least some of these adverse effects could be offset by an increase in physical activity across these age groups, but this avenue was not pursued. Instead, SACN served up a headline-grabbing target of reducing the contribution of sugar to 5% of our dietary energy intake.
How is this to be achieved? The nanny staters are questioning the willingness of the food industry to take action voluntarily. The fact is, manufacturers are already reducing sugar. But some regulationists are dismissing the idea that people have a responsibility to look after their health - it “denies the biology of addiction,” Professor Robert Lustig claimed in his Saturday Essay last week.
This implies everyone is a potential addict because we are exposed to so many unhealthy temptations. So why stop at diet? If addictions are someone else’s fault, the serial shoplifter could legitimately blame the shopkeeper for displaying so many tempting products. That is the absurd logic of the prohibitionist.
Personal responsibility is based on freedom of choice, and the role of government is to make the process of choosing as easy and well informed as possible. Nothing more, nothing less.
Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant