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Introduction

This is the story of a remarkable episode in the long history of man's attempt to understand and control nature, a story which in a number of cases reveals bad science, misinformation and abuse of trust. In itself, there is nothing new about such behaviour. What distinguishes this example is its sheer scale. Just as the Great War was unique because it involved virtually all the nations of the world and so later came to be known as World War One, so today we have for the first time a public health war which involves most nations of the world regardless of their politics or religion. It is a war whose aim is to rid us of all those elements of modern life which are held by those in authority to be injurious to our health. Its warriors are to be found at every level of society, from the national leader who fiscally assaults the smoker to the citizen who abuses his neighbour for being overweight. Governments around the world, supported by the public, are spending enormous amounts of money in an attempt to persuade us to live properly and adopt a 'healthy life-style'.

Perhaps the nearest historical parallel to this international campaign is to be found in the great witchhunts which occurred at various times throughout Europe and North and South America reaching their peak in the seventeenth century. About a million witches were tortured and executed over a period of 300 years. Today those witchhunts are looked on as a terrible aberration in the evolution of a progressively more humane civilisation, as something never to be repeated. Yet there are still elements of the witchhunt in today's lifestyle campaigns. Lifestyle heretics are harassed in public and even pursued by junk mail, television and newspaper to their very hearths in an unending attempt to make them recant, confess their unhealthy life-style and turn over a new behavioural and nutritional leaf.

There is no suggestion that health professionals at every level have anything but our well-being at heart. Indeed, a parallel is often drawn between the worthy and very successful attempts to eliminate the most serious infectious diseases and modern man's quest for the elimination of the degenerative diseases, particularly cancer and cardio-vascular disease. However, good intentions are not enough. It is my contention that, well-meaning though they may be, our advisers have too often misread the evidence.

As a liberal, I believe that people should be free to lead their private lives as they choose. What is private? That question is really one for the political scientists to wrangle over. My personal view is that since there can be no personal activity without some consequence to others, toleration is required by all. I find strong deodorants offensive, and the zest emitted from a freshly peeled orange offensive to the point of injury (there has been at least one fatality resulting from inhaled orange fumes triggering a fatal vaso-vagal attack). And I tolerate them. Reciprocally, I expect the deodorised and the orange-eaters to tolerate my cigarette smoke.

My cholesterol-rich boiled breakfast egg and my fatty lamb chop dinner are strictly my affair whether or not they bring about my premature death. No-one castigates the skier for breaking his leg and thereby increasing the national health bill and no more should I be for supposedly taking risks in the much murkier waters of cardiovascular disease causation.

The principal argument which will be made in this paper is that the elements of the supposedly healthy life-style-exercise, fresh air, fat-free diet etc.-are not necessarily conducive to long life, good health or general well-being and may have quite the reverse effect. That is quite apart from the concomitant infringement of our rights as free citizens.