Good public health policies are freedom-enhancing and provide protection from harmful influences beyond individual control.
Health policies and regulations help create living environments that make it easier for people to pursue productive and fulfilling lives, free from preventable diseases. They offer the freedom to receive the best possible care, independent of socio-economic condition. Public health policies contribute to protecting the biosphere to avoid the constraints and anxieties imposed by environmental degradation. They also serve as protections to ensure equity in health and life chances. Viewing polices and regulations in this way has been referred to as adopting a ‘people’s viewpoint’.
Detractors, however, often label public health policies as ‘nanny state’, suggesting that peoples’ ability to enjoy themselves are being threatened. They also often, and quite perversely, state that these actions impact negatively on the poor. Such claims serve to hide important details from people, trivialise what are actually responses to major threats to human well-being and the planet’s future, and ignore or distort the evidence and aims that guide such policies. Not surprisingly, such narratives are often promoted by interests that seek to maintain their privilege to shape people’s choice environments for their own commercial gains.
Some of the major threats to health and prosperity in the 21st century – i.e. tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food, sedentary environments, air pollution – are all related to marketed products and services, as well as production processes. The expanding global epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and threats such as the climate and biodiversity crises and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) show the systemic nature of the problems. Failure to acknowledge this, and continuing to label such issues as problems that lie within the hands of individuals who just need to stop making the ‘wrong’ ‘lifestyle choices’ is inaccurate and delays the adoption of adequate responses.
Delivering good policies and regulations means creating a level playing field for all people to flourish and creating the opportunities for businesses to develop and pursue sustainable economic models. Good policies and regulations are the foundation of strong and vibrant societies.