Home   News   Article

NHS HIGHLAND: No easy answer to being more in control of choices

By Dr Tim Allison

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

It is only natural to feel that we are in control. It’s human nature to feel that. We make decisions for ourselves, and we are not unduly influenced by others.

Most people don’t like being told what to do. Sometimes people refer to government policies designed to move people towards a particular course of action as the nanny state. Surely, we don’t need help to look after ourselves. Sadly, it is not that simple, and we do often need help. Why do I say that?

Let’s start with advertising. We are bombarded with advertisements almost wherever we look. This used to be mostly on billboards and newspapers then television. Even coverage of Wimbledon on the TV was interrupted by advertisements for other programmes.

Now, lots of advertising has moved online. Some is obvious and some is more hidden. There is a saying that if you are getting something for free, you are the product. The company giving us the free service may be making money by selling our presence to its advertisers or directing us where to go.

There are so many influences around that we are in a poor position to be able to make a free and reasoned choice. If advertising didn’t work, then companies would not pay billions of pounds on it.

Then we move on to our bodies. They were not designed for living in a modern world with access to lots of high energy manufactured foods and tools and transport that do away with the need for physical activity.

Foods that used to be a rarity such as those high in salt and sugar are now found everywhere and our natural fondness for them risks doing much more harm than good. Addictive activities like tobacco and drug use don’t need advertising to keep up their market. When things that we find hard to resist are also advertised then it is even more difficult to be in control.

We are attracted to the product by the advertising and then we want more.

So, what can we do to help take the power back to ourselves and be more in control of what we do?

There is no easy answer, but first we should recognise the issue. Knowledge is power and when we know the strength of advertising and how our bodies are designed it can help us take better control. We can look at calorie labels or perhaps pay particular attention to the amount of sugar in foods such as breakfast cereals. We can question why we do things.

However, making healthy choices in what we do is not primarily about knowledge and willpower. It is inevitable that we are influenced by the world around us, and we need help to live healthily, to stop smoking and to exercise. Activities that do that are not about being a nanny state but are an attempt to start to balance the influence of advertising and the way our bodies work in modern society.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More