Through the 19th century and most of the 20th century, public health was about things that happened to us (like infectious diseases) and the answers were about tangible things like vaccines and sewers. For the last 30 years or so, public health has often been about things we do to ourselves (overeating, not exercising, smoking and drinking) and the answers have been harder to find.
With so much ill-health now linked to the way we live, whose responsibility is changing our behaviour? Should we be left to make our decisions about what we do, eat or drink, without government advice or control? Or by stepping back from managing our lifestyle, would government simply leave the field clear for businesses to cash in or our unhealthy habits?
With healthcare publicly funded, and almost all of us relying on public services to look after us if we become unwell or infirm, can government legitimately take action to stop us harming our own health? Should government be creating opportunities to be healthy, or removing opportunities to be unhealthy? Are measures like a minimum price for alcohol a step too far, or reasonable measure to prevent harm?
Andrew Misell is Manager of Alcohol Concern Cymru, a charity working to promote sensible drinking and a healthier relationship with alcohol in Wales.
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