Which nanny--the state or industry? Wowsers, teetotallers and the fun police in public health advocacy

Public Health. 2015 Aug;129(8):1030-7. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2015.01.031. Epub 2015 Apr 29.


There is no option for avoiding the 'Nanny'. The only option for communities is to make sensible choices about which 'Nanny' will dominate their lives and at what time, which 'Nanny' will make us healthy and which 'Nanny' will undermine our health and our freedoms. Those political ideologues who use 'nanny statism' largely do so to further their own agenda and are invariably inconsistent in how they apply their concept of non-interference. Who's afraid of the 'Nanny State' is not the question should be asking. Rather the question ought to be--which Nanny should cause the greatest concern? The prime reason that the 'Nanny State' conjures fear is that it is a threat to the freedoms that are a key element of democratic societies. The tenet understood by the concept of the 'Nanny State' is that the more regulation that is made by the State, the more freedoms are whittled away and it is the intention of the wowsers, the teetotallers and the fun police to do so. It is time to rethink the 'nanny' concept, from the narrow sense of loss of individual freedoms (and one which favours 'free enterprise' and money making interests of big industry) to that which enables individuals and populations freedom from domination. Such a change particularly pertains to our understandings of the role of government. Pettit's work in framing the notion of freedom in terms of 'dominance' rather than 'interference' is pertinent. It provides a more realistic way in which to understand why industry uses the 'Nanny State' argument. It is to maintain its own dominance (i.e. in matters of public health) rather than allowing governments to interfere with that dominance. Public health advocacy work is regularly undermined by the 'Nanny State' phrase. This paper explores a series of examples which illustrate how public health is being undermined by the 'Nanny Industry' and how industry uses fear of government regulation to maintain its own dominance, to maintain its profits and to do so at a significant financial and social cost to the community and to public health.

Keywords: Advocacy; Freedom; Nanny state; Public health; Teetotaller; Wowser.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Consumer Advocacy*
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • State Government*