Nanny state or just good public health?

By on 18/09/2013 in Blog

Linda Hindle

Linda Hindle

Birmingham Public Health's Consultant Dietician and Senior Manager for Healthy Eating and Activity, Linda Hindle, reflects on reactions to the Junk-free Checkouts campaign.

You’re not really a fully paid up member of the public health community until you’ve been accused of nanny-state-ism.

The simple fact is that trying to encourage healthy behaviour changes seems to upset some people and they’re quick to tell you that you’re an interfering busybody.

C’est la vie.

Over the last couple of days I’ve helped launch the Junk-Free Checkouts campaign – a joint initiative from the British Dietetic Association and the Children's Food Campaign calling on supermarkets to permanently remove unhealthy snacks from checkouts. Video:

The campaign comes after a survey found:

  • 78 per cent of respondents said they found junk food at checkouts “annoying”
  • 83 per cent have been pestered by their children to buy junk food at the checkouts
  • 75 per cent have given in to their children and bought something because they were pestered

Now some people have responded by deciding we are ‘the food Nazis’ who want to tell everyone what to do, think and eat.


Working in public health is all about putting your head above the parapet and you quickly realise that what you say and do will upset some people.

That’s nothing new. The smoking ban had its critics in the 1970s, as did the fight for seatbelt legislation in the 1970s.

Fortunately, in both cases, common sense prevailed.

Just to make it clear: nobody is suggesting that removing junk food from supermarket checkouts will suddenly eradicate this country’s obesity problem. But it could play a part in a much broader approach to the problem that, let’s face it’ is a national crisis.

In Birmingham for example, the Health and Wellbeing Board recently endorsed a childhood obesity strategy that recommends a wide range of measures to cut the city's childhood obesity rates over the next five years. Board members were in absolute agreement that failing to act now will have catastrophic consequences. View a webcast of the discussion

People can and do take steps themselves to tackle obesity but it’s the duty of public health professionals to help individuals and families adopt healthier lifestyles.

That’s not interfering it’s just about understanding the many factors that might contribute towards people making unhealthy choices.

Pester power is one such factor, so I’m convinced that removing unhealthy snacks from checkouts can play a part in the much wider battle.

We all have a part to play in that wider battle and campaigns like Junk-Free Checkouts help stimulate debate. That debate is absolutely vital if we are going to tackle the many factors that contribute to the obesity crisis in 2013.

Is that nanny-state-ism or a sensible approach to public health?

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