Warning: Government advice is hazardous to your health

Public Health England is the body that recently proposed that we should limit
ourselves to 1,800 calories per day, versus the government’s previously
recommended 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men. It is “demanding” a
calorie-cap on supermarket ready meals that would limit breakfasts to 400
calories and lunches and dinners to 600 calories each.

The government’s Chief Medical Officer published revised alcohol guidelines in
2016, taking the recommended limit down to 14 units per week for both men
and women. The previous recommendation had been a maximum of 21 units
per week for women, and 28 for men. The new limit, 14 units, is about 6 pints a week, or 6 medium glasses of wine—not even one per day.

The sugary drinks tax coming in this year will be applied to drinks containing
more than 5g of sugar per 100ml. That’s because sugar is the new public
enemy. Before that it was saturated fats we were told to avoid, in the belief they
led to heart disease. Now it is thought that carbohydrates are the enemy. At one
stage we were told to limit our eggs to only two a week to avoid building up
cholesterol. That was before we discovered that we don’t absorb the cholesterol
in eggs.

One could be forgiven for taking all of this contradictory and changing advice
with a pinch of salt, but we are told to avoid salt in order to combat high blood

The question arises as to whether government should be doing this, and
whether the advice is helpful. One of the principal effects might be to make
people feel bad about themselves, inducing feelings of guilt and lowered self-
esteem if they eat and drink what they fancy. Guilt and low self-esteem raise
stress levels, and it is quite possible that increased stress levels contribute
themselves to health problems.

It is not really government’s job to make people feel miserable, and it is
certainly no business of theirs to legislate what people may or may not eat. The
fact that the recommended limits are so low is justified by officials on the
grounds that people will always exceed recommendations, so ultra-low ones will
make them exceed to tolerable rather than intolerable levels. The problem with
this approach is that the ultra-low targets simply discredit the whole process of
recommendation. If people think they are absurd, they will simply ignore them,
even though guilt and lowered self-esteem might follow on from ignoring them.
There is a very good case for proposing that government should stop doing this
altogether. There is plenty of good medical advice that people can read in the
press, and most people are aware of the ancient dictum, “Nothing to excess.”
Most of us, I suspect, would like to indulge ourselves occasionally without
having official bullies making us feel bad about doing so.