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I think there are two different approaches to living a healthy life. One is to try very hard to avoid everything which current opinion holds to be bad for you, be guided by “experts” and statistics, feel very guilty about any human imperfection, and generally believe that if you work hard enough, you can achieve invulnerability. This is very American.

The other is to enjoy yourself, be reasonably moderate, be skeptical of the “experts”, and let the chips fall where they may. This approach is more European – or used to be.

These are broad stereotypes, but they’re both reasonable and most people are drawn more to one than the other. The problem comes when the first group starts to dictate to the second. Especially when there’s no real proof, that either approach works best.

We have, for instance, become overwhelmed by abstruse claims and counter-claims on the subject of nutrition. Thirty years ago, we didn’t even hear about “nutrition”; instead we had something called food, which had worked pretty well for thousands of years.

Now we all flail around in a minefield of polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants, amino acids, Omega-3, etc, so confused about the basic business of feeding ourselves that we are increasingly reliant on “experts” to guide us. This is good business for the “experts”, but the rest of us have just ended up with not only more stress and anxiety, but more obesity and diabetes.

Every prescription drug has potentially nasty side-effects, which kill thousands of people every year; but if we have a pain, or even just feel sad, we shrug our shoulders and take them. Thousands of people die every year in road accidents, yet we shrug our shoulders and get into our cars. When any risk is associated with a pleasure, though, we struggle to relinquish that pleasure, and we turn life into a stressed-out obstacle course.

This is perverse. Human beings are pleasure-seeking creatures. What is more conducive to health: pleasure or fear? Pleasure and free choice are not just “nice work if you can get it”; they are crucial. Our doctors and politicians seem to have forgotten this, and are becoming mean-spirited and dictatorial as a result.

Written by: Joe Jackson (Smoke, Lies, and the Nanny State)