Now that we’re well-into February, many of us are giving up on our January goals of cutting down on booze, saving money, learning Sanskrit, or whatever else we planned to finally do in 2019. There’s always next year! If your new year’s resolution was to finally get in shape, then you’re in luck; the government is planning to make sure you stick to your new diet with an iron fist.

Of course, many will not find this particularly surprisingly. We’ve often seen campaigns and drives to get people exercising or to promote healthy eating (the NHS’s Change4Life adverts remain fully ingrained into my childhood memories). Yet, it seems as though the state has tired of the let’s-get-busy, Richard Simmons-esque approach to combating obesity, and is now taking more-draconian route to force you to eat healthy. 

On Christmas Day, The Telegraph revealed the contents of draft legislation which would impose a ‘calorie cap’ on food bought in supermarkets and restaurants. Packaged sandwiches could not exceed 550 calories. Ready meals could not exceed 544 calories. Takeaway restaurants would have to ensure they didn’t sell you a pizza exceeding 1040 calories. 

Currently, many such food items would stand in violation of the proposed caps. In fact, many critics of the proposed caps are concerned that it might not even be feasible for many food items to meet the new requirements. Some, such as Christopher Snowdon of the IEA, have questioned the logic behind the cap limits, calling them “arbitrary, unscientific, and unrealistic”.

Indeed, it’s difficult to fully understand why PHE have decided on this route, let alone how they arrived at the figures used in the caps. As my colleague Bill Wirtz points out in a statement on the proposal, Britain’s obesity problem is far more an issue of underactivity, rather than too much energy intake. In fact, caloric consumption has actually decreased for the average Brit over the past decades.

Thus far, it would seem that the proposed cap is unnecessary and potentially unfeasible. Meanwhile, consumers will have to shoulder much of the burden for a heavy-handed measure that promises little results. 

After all, there’s a strong relationship between good-tasting food and a high caloric content. When we eat unhealthy food, for the most part, we do so in the knowledge that we’re being a bit naughty. We willfully discount the negative effects on our health in favour of the pleasure it brings us when we order a takeaway or go out for a meal. Ultimately, this a decision that we should be allowed to make for ourselves; should we not be trusted to choose for ourselves what we consume? 

Imposing a calorie cap as per PHE’s suggestion will simply cause restaurateurs and those in the food industry a headache, limit the choice of British consumers, and ultimately make our dining experience a lot more miserable. 

Sadly, however, such a decision is fairly par for the course. Just a few months ago I wrote on a proposal to ban ‘freakshakes’ – milkshakes adorned with copious amounts of sauce, cakes, biscuits, or other sugary treats. As I argued then, the state’s role in public health is not to protect us from ourselves. As free adults, we should enjoy the right to decide to what we eat, regardless of its good for us. 

If the government wishes to take an interest in fighting the obesity problem in Britain, it should do so without limiting our choices or bodily autonomy. It should be a case of informing people of the dangers of frequent unhealthy eating, and promoting active lifestyles. To outright impose a limit on how caloric our food can be sends the message that Brits just can’t be trusted to look after their bodies without nanny telling us how many rusks we’re allowed. 

Let’s not allow 2019 to become yet another year of handing over personal responsibilities to the state. Ultimately, a cap on calories as proposed by PHE seems neither well-thought out, with so many in the food industry questioning its feasibility,  nor respectful of our freedom to choose. 

Brits deserve the right to decide how and what they eat, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy it’s been deemed. Let’s make 2019 the year we stop letting the government make our orders for us, and choose from the menu ourselves. It is, after all, the year of the pig!



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