In a free country, individuals should be granted the liberty to act how they see fit, and if they require professional health care, they should pay for it, argues Angus Milne

Boris Johnson's declaration of war on obesity is both admirable and disturbing. His belief that being overweight hampers your ability to fight the virus has merit; but his determination to make the nation fitter invites yet further encroachment on our freedoms by the state. On the 23rd July, the Financial Times ran an article detailing some of the anti-obesity proposals under government consideration.

The Prime Minister is right to say that being overweight puts you in greater danger if you contract coronavirus. Being overweightstacks the odds against your health full stop. Coronavirus notwithstanding, the obese are at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes andvarious other physical and mental ailments. So Boris should be applauded for leading by example in his personal effort to shed a few pounds. Hopefully many will be inspired to take a similar interest in their health.

But the Prime Minister's admission that he is 'now interventionist on obesity' is a reminder of the infantilised state we have drifted into. The state, not the individual, will assume responsibility for our health. Rather than leave people to educate themselves and make their own decisions there is talk of stopping restaurants from offering unlimited refills and buy one get one free offers. A sugar tax is also being considered. Aside from the fact this means yet more regulations for businesses that could use some breathing room to stave off bankruptcy; the proposals due to be released next month signal that yet more of our individual decision making is to be assumed by government.

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While this move is a departure from the libertarian principles Johnson used to hold, it should surprise no one. Such interventionism is entirely coherent with the situation in this country. The NHS is in trouble. It's handling of the crisis was in many cases wanting and there is speculation that NHS waiting lists could reach 10 million by Christmas.

The economy and the NHS took a significant hit in the last three months and it is questionable whether either will survive another pandemic.

If the government must take responsibility for the NHS and foot its colossal bill, it stands to reason they should seek to prevent as many people possible from requiring NHS care. Johnson's thinking is that a slimmer, fitter nation will take pressure off hospitals.

For those who value freedom and recognise that with it comes more personal responsibility and less government, the strategy rankles. There is also something ugly about assessing a person's health ? not in terms of their own well being ? but by calculating how much of a potential burden they are to the NHS and the state. We have already seen the unsavoury practice of grouping people according to how they contributed to the crisis: the saints who worked in front-line services; and the sinners who breached lock-down restrictions. And now, a struggling NHS combined with a national obesity issue forces an uncomfortable conclusion: the overweight are not merely a risk to themselves, but a menace to society.

In a free country, individuals should be granted the liberty to act how they see fit, and if they require professional health care, they should pay for it. In countries such as Germany, Austria and Israel, universal private health care is provided by insisting that everyone takes out health insurance. Those who cannot afford to do so are offered financial help. It would be far less sinister to be offered an insurance discount if you can prove yourself to be a healthy weight, than to be coerced into a state fitness program.

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