Friday 11 October 2019 4:12 am

The draconian nanny state has no right to stop you eating a sandwich on a bus

Kate Andrews is associate director at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

It’s not a crime to eat a sandwich on a bus.

It should not be a crime to eat a sandwich on a bus. To propose that sandwich-eating on a bus is an issue to be tackled, a problem to be solved, a danger to the children, is somewhere on the spectrum between hysterical and absurd.

So naturally, public health officials have put the idea forward as a consideration for serious public policy, in a report this week by outgoing chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.

We should not be surprised. Over the past few years, British quangos have been bombarding the public with their Orwellian ideas, from free speech attacks on advertising to regressive taxes on fizzy drinks. It was only a matter of time before their policy proposals became more egregiously silly in nature.

But doing this “in the name of the children” is no laughing matter. As my colleague at the Institute of Economic Affairs Christopher Snowdon has argued tirelessly before, the statistics around childhood obesity are deeply flawed and misleading. 

The government ignores the clinical definition of child obesity when compiling its statistics. Instead it uses an arbitrary and unrealistic measure which hugely exaggerates the scale of the problem.

In reality, the issue of childhood obesity is contained to a small but needy bracket of kids, who should be the target of our intervention and help.

Creating a culture of shame around food is not the way to do it. These latest proposals to ban eating and drinking on public transport would suggest that public health officials have gravitated towards an unhealthy obsession with consumption. 

It is irresponsible to send a message to young girls and boys – many of whom are already body-conscious – that food should not been consumed in public. What kind of damage will be wrought by the suggestion that eating when hungry is unhealthy behaviour?

But of course, this isn’t about the children – or about safety or health or reducing litter on public transport. This is yet another attempt on the part of unelected officials to mould and shape our lives to their preferences – to make our free society less free.

Why else would Davies’ report include policies that are clearly aimed at adults, such as the call for an “upper-level cap on calories” for “all food and drink” served outside of the home? 

Public officials are not trying to stop children from purchasing a sugary wedding cake or a ready-made Christmas pudding to serve to the extended family – they’re trying to stop us, the grown-ups. They want control over our date-night dinner for two, our cinema pick-and-mix, our Saturday chocolate croissant, our early morning juice drink. 

To drink orange juice on the Tube to work never has been, and never should be, a breach of some state rule. To hinder adults from doing so is an utterly absurd intrusion.

Bureaucrats have already had their fun, ruining more than enough classic recipes like Irn-Bru and Ribena, thanks to the pressure put on brands to “reformulate”. So let’s stop this authoritarian creep in its tracks now.

The risk to us isn’t just the taste or size of your favourite pizza or preferred sweet. It is to the very definition of what it means to be a free adult in a free country.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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