Guest Post: Terry Barnes Harm reduction: is Nanny losing the initiative?

This week has been a good and bad week for the harm reduction cause.

First the bad.  UK Health secretary Jeremy Hunt declared war on the course which is the greatest delight of all meals: pudding.  Mr Hunt has listened too much to the do-gooders and hyper-regulators of the British public health lobby and told a private meeting of food industry executives that Theresa May’s Tory government is considering legislating to force restaurants and cafes to reduce the sugar content, or else reduce the size of, pudding portions (that is, pudding in the UK and older Australians’ sense of the dessert course – yep, not just plum and other pud but your ice cream, cheesecake, Black Forest gateaux, tiramisu and, above all, chocolate mousse (with cream and cherry on top, of course!): in other words, compelling less of the good yummy stuff that makes eating the merely good-for-you stuff tolerable for adults as well as children.

The head of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie, said:

We need a level playing field – if the food and drink bought in cafes, coffee shops and restaurants does not also get reformulated and portions rethought then it will remain often significantly higher in sugar and bigger in portion than those being sold in supermarkets and convenience shops. This will not help the overall industry to help us all make healthier choices.

What rot.  Given PHE has been the vanguard of fighting the suppression of vaping by the puritanical likes of the Cat’s and my favourite villain, Simon Chapman, it’s alarming this worthy organisation is being so selective as to what it applies principled pragmatism as opposed to blind zealotry.

Hunt’s hunting down pudding portions may have got two cheers from the public health lobby in Britain and here in Australia (never three cheers, mind: nothing politicians do is ever enough to satisfy that miserable lot) but it was promptly and ruthlessly shot down where policy is made and tested these days, social media.  And besides the absurdity of it as a nanny state measure, Hunt forgot one thing: when was the last time that you saw a “moreish” portion of anything in a restaurant or cafe?  In London, you’re lucky if you get a stewed prune and change from 20 quid when it comes to afters, and it’s not that much different here!

It appears the Health Secretary’s already had his own desserts – a metaphorical custard pie in his Boat Race – but given his new PM’s declaration at the recent Conservative party conference that increased government intervention can be a good thing in people’s lives, don’t be too sure. And given that what’s tried in Britain is more often than not emulated in Australia, libertarians and genuine harm reductionists should take note and be afraid.  The killjoys of the sugar-tax wannabes like the Obesity Policy Coalition will be rubbing their hands at this one.

But now the good.  In Sydney, NSW MLC Peter Phelps is conducting a one-man jihad against nanny staters, puritans and public health quacks in hearings by a parliamentary inquiry into fat kiddies – that is, childhood obesity and what should the NSW government do about it.  A more prolific, wittier and saner tweeter than Donald Trump, Dr Phelps this week has continually updated his progress in making gibbering fools of earnest nutritionists, public health academics and anti-obesity advocates who blame fat kiddies on Big Food and Big Advertising doing too much and Big Government doing too little to stop them.  Personal and parental responsibility apparently has nothing to do with it.

It was a joy to read the transcript of his devastating takedown of the Obesity Policy Coalition policy wonk Jane Martin – a lady of whom it can be said has no answer to any health problem that doesn’t involve taxing, regulating and penalising those she considers corrupting our innocent little kiddies.  In a delicious piece of questioning, Dr Phelps got the dour Ms Martin to admit that kids pestering their parents comes down to the parents, and can’t be blamed on anyone else.  He also succeeded in getting Ms Martin and other do-gooder witnesses to admit that if a child is active, and their calorie intake is insufficient to meet their energy needs, their diet is ipso facto unhealthy and a calorific dose of Macca’s Happy Meals and other sugary delights can actually do them good.  Besides proving that having a parent with Ms Martin’s prissy values would make for a very miserable childhood indeed, Dr Phelps’s questions, and the frantic contortions they caused, were the best entertainment on offer in Sydney this week.

To combat the all-powerful public health puritans we need more Peter Phelpses in our parliaments, natural iconoclasts who never take the decrees of self-appointed experts as gospel.  He is showing how it can be done: if only a few health ministers would follow his sceptical example.

The other piece of good news this week is courtesy of an industry group, the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, who are the people who represent the interests of corner shops, 7-Elevens and the like.  The AACS have released the findings of commissioned polling that indicates for the Australian public the legalisation of nicotine-containing vaping devices is more popular than the Left’s favourite political agenda-strangling cause, same-sex marriage.

The poll  was based on a sample of 4,000 respondents (of whom about half were smokers), about three times the size of a common-or-garden Newspoll and therefore with a very small margin of error.  Key findings included:

  • 73 per cent of Australians support the legalisation of e-cigarettes if it helps smokers quit and if, as our Public Health England friends have concluded in reviewing the evidence, it is at least 95 per cent safer than combustible tobacco.
  • 54 per cent of Australians said that the issue could influence or even change their vote in an election.
  • 68 per cent of smokers said that they would try e-cigarettes if they were readily available and cheaper than normal tobacco; and
  • 21 per cent of Australians said they were not aware nicotine e-cigarettes are not legal in Australia; and
  • Only 6 per cent of non-smokers said they would consider trying e-cigarettes.

The AACS makes the simple point that their members can sell deadly ciggies, but not an almost risk-free alternative that can deliver nicotine without the deadly chemicals, metals and gases in tobacco and tobacco smoke.  To them, Australia’s continuing ban on nicotine vaping makes no sense, and it appears the great majority of the Australian public agree.

This poll is excellent news, and ammunition, for genuine tobacco harm reduction advocates, and should give comfort to pusillanimous pollies who have cowered far too long before public health puritans, and their acolyte bureaucrats, who want vapers treated like fugitive criminals while themselves hiding behind the fig-leaf known as the “precautionary principle”.  The message of the AACS poll is that if people understand what the vaping product is, how it works and, more importantly, what it can do to reduce health risks and the deadly consequences of smoking, politicians and parties will be rewarded for their foresight and wisdom, and for applying a little common sense instead of blind ideology.

Thanks to AACS and Peter Phelps, it’s becoming a good week for genuine harm reduction, which assumes most people have at least half a brain to decide things for themselves, and policy should respect their right to make their own personal choices and take personal responsibility for them. As for Nanny Jeremy and his puny pudding portions, the UK Health secretary simply isn’t in the good policy Hunt.

Terry Barnes is a policy consultant, former senior adviser to Howard government health ministers and a part-time fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs

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36 Responses to Guest Post: Terry Barnes Harm reduction: is Nanny losing the initiative?

  1. C.L.

    Wait, what?
    Britain is now at war with pudding?

    As for seriously fat children, look: it is always the parents’ fault.
    It means they themselves are fat and lazy or else so narcissistic and weak that they can’t be bothered properly disciplining and raising their children. It’s that simple.

  2. Andrew Thompson

    Great article.

    Two typos.

    ipso factounhealthy

    should have a space..

    ipso facto unhealthy

    &

    would follow his skpetical example.

    should be

    would follow his skeptical example.

    (Please delete this comment after you’ve seen it.)

    [Thanks for that. I did substitute ‘sceptical’ for ‘skeptical’ though. Sinc]

  3. Galeoturpis

    1) healthy is a weasel word. The UN definition – complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. Completely unmeasurable ! You may as well use the pithy adjective “good” in it’s place; e.g. Good diet, good economy, good sexual appetite
    2) “Public health” is a corrupt discipline which produces little of any value except for a few well paid public service jobs and crazy policy ideas for the left. Epidemiological data can only show correlation and apart from John Snow’s cholera discovery is not good at finding causation. Most experts (like Thomas Picketty) really do confuse correlation with causation. Their “Rose Principle” (i.e. it is better to decrease the average risk factor rather than treating the diseased outliers) is fundamentally authoritarian. 
    3) Nutritionists are some of the most poorly educated health professionals who have absolutely no idea about physiology,  biochemistry, statistics, study design etc. and consequently routinely give bad advice. In the 1970s the mantra was that fat and cholesterol were bad – give up meat and eggs. The populace followed their advice and so ate margarine and lots more carbohydrates , which now we discover are bad! Nutritionists struggle to prescribe a diet for unconscious people being fed nasogastrically (it takes hour long consultations and a calculator.) They can get the calories and protein bit right but ignore the other 80 components of a diet – omega 3 fats, choline, magnesium, fibre, lutein etc. They still provide bad dietary advice based on the discredited low fat diet or food pyramid rather than a Mediterranean diet. Quinoa and kale anyone? 

    4) There is no such thing as a healthy meal or food. There is only a nutritionally adequate diet. It can be judged on taste, cost, availability,  calories etc.  What the government can do is limited because of all the armies of advertising, food bloggers, celebrity chefs, personal trainers giving conflicting advice. 
    Someone like Dr Michael Moseley is one of the few people who gives evidence based advice and it would be sensible to follow what he says rather than idiot committees made up of halfwit public health experts and nutritionists. 

  4. Snoopy

    Quite so. Astrologists have greater credibility than nutritionists.

  5. johanna

    Bravo, Galeoturpis!

    Nutritional “science” makes climate “science” look like proper physics. The proponents have never explained why Japanese people, who eat heaps of salt, live so long. Or why Scandanavians and other northern Europeans, who eat heaps of fat, (and have an entirely different diet) live so long.

    They haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.

    It is no secret that public health lobbyists are just self appointed lifestyle arbiters, with an insouciant disregard for data.

  6. Ross B

    Great post. Go Phelps. Thanks Terry

  7. Winston Smith

    Galeoturpis, I used to routinely tell the dietitian at work that her mob just got together every year at the dietitians AGM and decided what “Healthy Food” was.
    Generally she agreed with this…

  8. Matt

    So we have a situation now where 2/3 adults & 1/4 kids are overweight/obese – and that’s increasing. 1 in 2 kids has tooth decay by the age of 6 yrs – and that is increasing. Type II diabetes is increasing, and onset is getting younger. All diet-related diseases. All with a strong social gradient. And the best Cat has to offer is ‘it’s the parent’s fault!’
    Bravo, that should solve the problem.

  9. john constantine

    Inculcating the superstition that eating meat is so bad, that you are entitled to eat a heap of sweets as a reward for refusing to eat meat, this confused dietary message is being picked up by a heap of girls whose growth and bone density and energy levels would be better served by meals of chops and eggs instead of lettuce, frothy coffee and tim-tams.

  10. Entropy

    Snoopy
    #2171678, posted on October 13, 2016 at 4:50 am
    Quite so. Astrologists have greater credibility than nutritionists.

    I think you are being unfair on Astrologists there, Snoopy.

    The fats mantra still lives on like the undead. There is so much vested in it that nutritionists are having trouble reconciling what they promote with what they now realise is wrong. A very confusing and discomforting time for the profession I believe.

  11. Entropy

    John, do not dare to disparage the Tim Tam! Sacrilege!

  12. Tel

    I remember there was a Jewish guy who lived with Eskimos and ate nothing but meat, fish and fat for one year, said he felt great. He even ate the rotten meat that had been buried and dug up again (primitive food storage).

    The once famous “food pyramid” was a promotional marketing campaign for certain agricultural industries, aimed at vulnerable kids and aided by compliant teachers. It’s really a sign of why government cannot be trusted with any lifestyle decisions whatsoever.

  13. Tel

    I remember there was a J?wish guy who lived with Eskimos and ate nothing but meat, fish and fat for one year, said he felt great. He even ate the rotten meat that had been buried and dug up again (primitive food storage).

    The once famous “food pyramid” was a promotional marketing campaign for certain agricultural industries, aimed at vulnerable kids and aided by compliant teachers. It’s really a sign of why government cannot be trusted with any lifestyle decisions whatsoever.

    (sorry first version I forgot the code-word, went into moderation, admin please delete).

  14. Bruce of Newcastle

    Theresa May’s Tory government is considering legislating to force restaurants and cafes to reduce the sugar content, or else reduce the size of, pudding portions

    I’ve been reading a travelogue from 1715 by a guy called John Bell. I liked this bit:

    One of our company, a pretty fat man, asked the Taysha [a Mongol chief] what he should do to be as lean as he was. The old man replied in these few words, ‘Eat less, and work more’: a saying worthy of Hippocrates himself.

    😀

  15. Entropy

    Matt
    #2171710, posted on October 13, 2016 at 7:31 am
    So we have a situation now where 2/3 adults & 1/4 kids are overweight/obese – and that’s increasing. 1 in 2 kids has tooth decay by the age of 6 yrs – and that is increasing. Type II diabetes is increasing, and onset is getting younger. All diet-related diseases. All with a strong social gradient. And the best Cat has to offer is ‘it’s the parent’s fault!’
    Bravo, that should solve the problem.

    Well it is.
    Brush your teeth. Put fluoride in the water. Or if you have a Luddite council, give them fluoride tablets.
    Make sure your kids have a physical hobby. Give them proper meals of a varied diet.

    Nothing is as revolting and ultimately damaging as a warrior who desires to do good by being an authoritarian. It always, always ends badly.

    In this case, the campaign to stop access to pudding in order to save those deemed duller than the campaigners will just result in those targeted making different choices, quite different choices to those their benevolent dictators dictate.
    It has been that way since the 19th century, but the campaigners get their own piquant pleasure signal from their authoritarian actions and thus never learn from history.

  16. incoherent rambler

    Entropy – make I take your order now?

  17. Anne

    I remember there was a J?wish guy who lived with Eskimos and ate nothing but meat, fish and fat for one year…

    Was the fish crumbed or battered, Tel?

  18. Entropy

    incoherent rambler
    #2171776, posted on October 13, 2016 at 9:20 am
    Entropy – make I take your order now?

    Ha! Just wait until I really am in charge!

  19. struth

    After government being mostly to blame for the obesity of the west for many other factors than just the “food pyramid” that western hating bureaucrats found fit their narrative, from a scientist with a kiddie study and a need for self promotion that todays climate parasite “scientists” model themselves on, these people are still out there causing misery for millions.
    These totalitarians won’t stop without a bullet.
    I’m not advocating shooting them, I am just telling what it would take.
    Pure totalitarian filth.

  20. PoliticoNT

    When I was the manager of a very large (federal) grants fund I received an application for about $350k to fund the installation of water bubblers outside Outback stores in remote central Australia. The application was from my department’s national office in Canberra. I was based in Darwin. Now there was no way the committee of senior Aboriginal leaders I had to run grant applications past were ever going to sign off on the idea (there was a strict convention that the department never applied for funds itself, let alone the problems of rampant camels, donkeys, and the engineering challenges involved, none of which have been solved in the past 50 years) but such was the galactic scale eager-beaverness of the young ex-graduate in Canberra pushing the stupid idea I thought I’d dig a little.

    Well, wasn’t that interesting. (And bear with me because this goes to Phelps’ grilling of the obesity twit above.) I asked had briefings been provided to the Minister? Oh yes, they had. Within minutes I had over a dozen ministerial submissions to read through. Somewhere along the line someone had gotten it into their mind that if Aboriginal children had access to chilled, clean water then they would stop drinking Coke. I followed the ‘evidence’ trail and finally found myself in the office of a child nutrition expert within the NT Health Department.

    Contrary to what the Minister had been convinced of (in a gradually, ever escalating manner – a classic long game briefing manoeuvre by the Dept) – there was not a skerrick of evidence linking reduced fizzy drink consumption to access to water, chilled or otherwise. The health bureaucrat’s denouement of her own pathetic fabrication was a pleasure to watch. Alas for her, feel good ideas are not hard facts.

    I couldn’t helped myself and rang Canberra to ask should I ring the Minister to let them know they’d been misled by the Department (albeit unintentionally, clearly it was the blame of NT Health), or would I leave it with them? That was the last we heard of it.

  21. struth

    So we have a situation now where 2/3 adults & 1/4 kids are overweight/obese – and that’s increasing. 1 in 2 kids has tooth decay by the age of 6 yrs – and that is increasing. Type II diabetes is increasing, and onset is getting younger. All diet-related diseases. All with a strong social gradient. And the best Cat has to offer is ‘it’s the parent’s fault!’
    Bravo, that should solve the problem.

    This would have to be one of the sillier comments.

    We are blaming government in the first place.
    Government caused most of this in the first place, by getting involved and putting out corrupted information.
    Yet you want them to fix it.
    Their food pyramid, which is bullshit, has been pushed down the parents throat by government from the early seventies, when government starting messing with people’s diet.
    Oddly enough, the western world rapidly became obese shortly there after.
    If your kid is fat, you are to blame.
    Ultimately as a parent, you should have the brains to work this out, and make sure your kid fuels itself with the amount required for the energy expelled.
    People are disgusted with other people that let their dogs get fat, yet kids are a government responsibility?

  22. .

    Dr Jason Fung. Check him out. Intensive Dietary Management, The Obestiy Code etc.

    That is all.

  23. Dr Faustus

    All diet-related diseases. All with a strong social gradient. And the best Cat has to offer is ‘it’s the parent’s fault!’

    Partly right. In general terms, it’s the fault of the person eating the food – but in the case of obese children, it is the fault of the fucking parents.

    Even the lowest information retard knows that fatness is not a sign of good health and fatness comes from eating/drinking too much. You really, really don’t need to be a dietician to know that it is a reversible condition that can be achieved by eating less food. Preferably less sweet-tasting food.

    Heredity, metabolism, ‘glands’, psychological comfort eating, and “I never knew ‘innit” are all excuses to avoid the uncomplicated discipline of substituting ‘I want‘ for ‘I need‘. And, as the article points out, Jeremy Hunt is planning to hand out yet another brilliant excuse to the willpower challenged:

    All the Government will achieve by passing laws to tell restaurants how much food they can serve us is to implant in our minds the idea that over-eating isn’t our own fault. It will simply encourage fat people to pass on the blame for their condition on to others, to say: “It isn’t my fault that my belly overhangs my trousers, it’s Frankie and Benny’s fault for serving too much fudge cake.”

    And a fleet of new Mercedes’ to plaintiff lawyers.

  24. Tel

    Was the fish crumbed or battered, Tel?

    I would guess most of it was raw, scrape the scales and guts away, then start taking bites out. Very low tech living and not a whole lot of firewood around the Arctic Circle. There’s detailed notes somewhere, I’m sure you could search it out with a bit of time and effort.

  25. .

    Dr Rudi weighs into the conversation.

    Kak in die veld en betaal!

    EAT LESS

  26. Infidel Tiger 2.0 (Premium Content Subscribers Only)

    I remember there was a J?wish guy who lived with Eskimos and ate nothing but meat, fish and fat for one year, said he felt great. He even ate the rotten meat that had been buried and dug up again (primitive food storage).

    That’s a Ketogenic diet.

    We should all be on it.

  27. Infidel Tiger 2.0 (Premium Content Subscribers Only)

    The old man replied in these few words, ‘Eat less, and work more’: a saying worthy of Hippocrates himself.

    That is completely false. Calories in, calories out, has been completely debunked.

    Hippocrates himself did have very good dietary advice and part of it was the benefits of intermittent fasting.

    ?

  28. Tel

    That’s a Ketogenic diet.

    We should all be on it.

    I reckon those Eskimos would get shitty about all the immigrants barging in on their turf. Besides that, do you know how to catch a fish using bone hooks and dog tendon? Neither do I.

  29. Entropy

    How do they prepare the dog tendon?

  30. Dr Faustus

    That’s a Ketogenic diet.
    We should all be on it.

    One of the best things about a ketogenic diet is you can loudly refuse to eat quinoa on health grounds.
    The downside is the lies about lo-carb beer being drinkable…

  31. Struth,

    We are blaming government in the first place.
    Government caused most of this in the first place, by getting involved and putting out corrupted information.
    Yet you want them to fix it.

    That’s right, Struth. We want government to fix it by just pissing off.

  32. johanna

    I reckon those Eskimos would get shitty about all the immigrants barging in on their turf.

    The whole thing is cultural appropriation, Tel. Eating an Eskimo diet is just white oppression in action.

  33. Boambee John

    Back in the 1980s/1990s, there was a TV “celebrity” nutritionist named Rosemary Stanton.

    Problem was, she just looked unhealthy, with straggly hair and a dubious complexion.

    Don’t see much of her these days, perhaps retired.

  34. johanna

    Boambee John, she is still around, although probably retired. I saw her quoted the other day somewhere saying that anti-sugar hysteria was bollocks.

    That said, her nostrums in the day were about as scientific as phrenology.

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