Eating too much or too much of the wrong things is bad for your health. Is that your business, or is it also the government’s business? Does the NHS have a right to lecture, advise and influence our diets, on the grounds that medics can help us stay healthier if we eat sensibly? Does the state have to pick up all the costs for people who ignore good dietary advice and end up unable to work, needing benefits and medical help?
In particular, does the government have a role in the nutrition of children? After all, argue the interveners, the state should help take care of children in low income families. Children from low income families qualify for free school lunches. Children eat lunch at school under the supervision of teachers. Badly fed children from whatever backgrounds may not have enough energy for classes, or may be too fat to perform well in PE and sports.
Freedom lovers argue it is no business of the state to tell us what to eat. Children should be allowed to take packed lunches to school if they do not like the school dinner. Families are still free to buy what they wish at the supermarket, and should not be impeded from doing just that. Nutritional theories from the experts change over time. Could there be a danger in too many people backing a particular theory at a particular time?
The benefit system is blind to the causes of people’s inability to work and disability, with no main party suggesting any change to that. The NHS treats anyone, however they have come by their problem. Treating someone for obesity is no different morally from treating someone with a sports injury incurred by foolish disregard for safety.
How far should the state go in telling us what to eat and regulating what we eat?