Guest author, Tom Johnson, Director of Trajectory Partnership investigates healthy choices and the potential assault on pleasure when state intervention over personal choice goes too far.
Generally, the things that we enjoy are bad for us. Booze, cigarettes, caffeine, sugar and much more – all unhealthy in sufficient (and even minimal) quantities, and all the subject of either advice or regulation from health authorities and governments.
Governments are motivated to keep us healthy – it costs them less in delivering healthcare and a healthy population is one that can work and contribute economically. We also have an interest in keeping ourselves healthy: little decisions made in the moment (another slice of cake? Take the lift or the stairs? Walk or get the bus?) can lengthen our lives and improve their quality.
This balance between state intervention and personal choice is a delicate one, and when the encroachment goes too far, it can be termed an Assault on Pleasure.
This ‘assault’ isn’t just confined to things we eat and drink. A major study by researchers at University College London this year warned that heading footballs is as dangerous to the brain as boxing, indicating the wide remit of both fear of ‘unhealthy’ behaviours and the assault on pleasure. As football (very) slowly wakes up to the dangers of serious concussion on the field, it would not be surprising to see it acknowledge the dangers of repeated sub-concussive impacts. Is it impossible to imagine headers being outlawed or tightly controlled in football in the future? I suspect not (and as an Arsenal fan, would actively welcome this development…).
Public appetite for state health interventions is low and falling. Barely a third of consumers support higher taxes on unhealthy food and drink and only 4 in 10 support tighter regulation. There’s every chance, therefore, that this trend is driven not just by authorities looking to keep citizens safe and healthy, but by individuals themselves.
While it might be a leap to imagine the FA or FIFA issuing an edict banning heading, it is not so far fetched to imagine parents concerned by such studies encouraging their children to opt for ‘safer’ sports instead.
With trust in medical advice low – just 37% trust published medical research, compared to 65% who trust the experiences of family and friends – this will lead to a fragmented picture, with some individuals deeply worried about such impacts and others blithely unconcerned. Even individual consumers will balance risk with reward and trade unhealthy behaviours with healthy ones. Done your 10,000 steps today? Great, have a muffin.
It’s quite possible that nothing is safe from the Assault on Pleasure and that at some point we are aware of the health merits and demerits of virtually every activity. At this point, will we become rational agents, making informed decisions with our long term best interests at heart and not putting ourselves at risk? No, we’ll do what we enjoy, even if its bad for us.