TUESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- With a recent flood of new
regulations or proposals aimed at governing lifestyle choices such
as smoking, eating or cellphone use, is the United States in danger
of becoming a "nanny state"?
According to a new
Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, most Americans remain
ambivalent about the issue, agreeing that policies that aim to
protect public health and safety are sometimes necessary, but
believing as well that adults should take responsibility for their
own actions, and consequences for health.
In the online survey of more than 2,200 U.S. adults conducted in
late February, 81 percent of respondents agreed and 33 percent
strongly agreed that laws aimed at protecting public safety -- for
example, regulations concerning safe driving or childhood
vaccinations -- are important to keeping Americans safe.
More than three-quarters also agreed that such initiatives do
But on the other hand, almost two-thirds (61 percent) worried
that these same laws might be too coercive, impeding individual
"The public is somewhat schizophrenic about laws and policies that are intended to improve health and safety and reduce injuries and accidents," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. "Most people favor many regulations that protect them but they worry about our becoming a 'nanny state.' "
Pollsters quizzed respondents on 14 different policies, laws and
programs intended to improve health and safety.
"Most of the 14 policies, programs and regulations in our survey are supported by large majorities of adults, and some of them are strongly supported," Taylor said.
For instance, virtually all (91 percent) supported a ban on
texting while driving, while 74 percent "strongly" supported this
Other road-safety initiatives that garnered majority support
were banning talking on cellphones while driving (70 percent
supporting, 43 percent strongly supporting); requiring motorcycle
riders to wear helmets (82 percent supporting, 57 percent strongly
supporting); requiring cyclists to wear helmets (73 percent
supporting, 42 percent strongly supporting); and the mandate to
wear seat belts (86 percent in favor, 66 percent strongly in
Respondents also backed up many nutrition-related measures, such
as those requiring eating establishments to reveal nutritional
information on menus (78 percent supporting, 34 percent strongly
supporting); regulations in the offing to reduce the salt content
of packaged food (68 percent supporting, 27 percent strongly
supporting); and eliminating unhealthy trans fats in restaurants
(62 percent in favor, 26 percent strongly in favor).
The regular round of childhood vaccinations (mumps, measles,
whooping cough, tuberculosis and polio) also received 86 percent
positive votes with 55 percent strongly positive.
A smaller majority (61 percent) also favored giving the
controversial human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine -- which shields
against cervical and other cancers -- to children aged 11 and 12,
and about one-quarter strongly supported the idea.
Banning smoking in restaurants and public places, a regulation
which is gradually gaining ascendency in different regions of the
United States, received 80 percent "pro" votes. Fifty-eight percent
strongly supported these types of prohibitions.
Majorities did oppose three policies, however: employers citing
obesity as a reason not to hire (76 percent opposed, 43 percent
strongly opposed); employers not hiring smokers (65 percent
opposed, 34 percent strongly opposed); and the taxing of
sugar-sweetened soft drinks (62 percent against, 37 percent
And even as they supported many individual initiatives aimed at
protecting the public good, 81 percent of respondents agreed that
individuals should take responsibility for their own actions and
"be free to make their own decisions, even if they suffer as a
One expert stressed that a balance must be struck between
maintaining both public health and individual freedoms.
"In an interdependent society, there do need to be protocols that protect people from each other and also enable us to protect ourselves," said Philip Howard, chairman of Common Good, a nonprofit organization that champions legal reform.
While most of the regulations mentioned in this survey were
supported, Howard, who is also the author of
The Death of Common Sense, said that there are "a million regulations that Americans would agree are nonsensical."
These might include teachers being required to fill out so many
forms that they no longer have time to teach, or extremely
complicated reimbursement policies for government-funded
"Talking on the phone and texting while driving are actively dangerous for other people," he reasoned. "Unvaccinated children dramatically increase the risk of other people getting diseases."
However, regulation can also go too far, Howard noted. "In a
crowded society, you want protocols and regulations that protect us
from each other and give us information," he said. "What you don't
want is micromanagement."
For more on the hazards of distracted driving, head to the
Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.