Tax fizzy drinks and ban junk food ads, say doctors

A quarter of UK adults is thought to be obese Obesity is the "single greatest" threat to health, say the doctors

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Fizzy drinks should be heavily taxed and junk food adverts banished until after the watershed, doctors have said, in a call for action over obesity.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents nearly every doctor in the UK, said ballooning waistlines already constituted a "huge crisis".

Its report said current measures were failing and called for unhealthy foods to be treated more like cigarettes.

Industry leaders said the report added little to the debate on obesity.

The UK is one of the most obese nations in the world with about a quarter of adults classed as obese. That figure is predicted to double by 2050 - a third of primary school leavers are already overweight.

Doctors fear that a rising tide of obesity will pose dire health consequences for the nation.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is a "united front" of the medical profession from surgeons to GPs and psychiatrists to paediatricians. It says its doctors are seeing the consequences of unhealthy diets every day and that it has never come together on such an issue before.

Its recommendations include:

  • A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm
  • Further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20%
  • A reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres
  • A £100m budget for interventions such as weight-loss surgery
  • No junk food or vending machines in hospitals, where all food must meet the same nutritional standards as in schools
  • Food labels to include calorie information for children

Prof Terence Stephenson, the chair of the Academy, evoked parallels with the campaign against smoking.

He told the BBC: "That required things like a ban on advertising and a reduction in marketing and the association of smoking with sporting activities - that helped people move away from smoking."

Graph showing obesity rates

He said there was no "silver-bullet" for tackling obesity, instead the entire culture around eating needed to change to make it easier to make healthy decisions.

"I choose what I eat or whether I smoke, what people have told us is they want help to swim with the tide rather than against the current to make the healthy choice the easy one," he said.

While the report makes a raft of recommendations, Prof Stephenson attacked sugary drinks for being "just water and sugar" and lambasted a culture where it was deemed acceptable to drink a litre of fizzy drink at the cinema.

A tax was needed to help "encourage people to drink more healthy drinks," he said.

Start Quote

The root cause is the food environment, it's like telling children going into a sweet shop not to eat sweets.”

End Quote Dr Aseem Malhotra Cardiologist

"Doctors are often accused of playing the nanny state, we didn't hear from a single person who said they liked being overweight, everybody we met wanted help from the state and society.

"If we didn't have things like this we wouldn't have speed limits that save lives, we wouldn't have drink-driving limits that save lives, there's a host of things that society and state does to help us live long, healthy fulfilling lives and we're just suggesting something similar."

But Terry Jones, of industry body the Food and Drink Federation, said the report "seems to be a damp squib and to add little to an important debate".

"The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has presented as its recommendations, a collection of unbalanced ideas apparently heavily influenced by single issue pressure groups," he said.

"FDF had hoped that today's report would have looked seriously at how the food industry and the medical profession would have worked together to tackle obesity, and genuinely brought new insights to bear on how to empower healthier choices and change behaviour to deliver better long-term public health outcomes. This report fails to do that."

The British Soft Drinks Association rejected the idea that a tax on soft drinks, which it said contributed "just 2%" of the total calories in the average diet, would address a problem "which is about overall diet and levels of activity".


Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who helped draw up the report, has noticed more and more of his patients are overweight and suffering from obesity related illnesses.

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    He told the BBC: "The root cause is the food environment, it's like telling children going into a sweet shop not to eat sweets.

    "There's nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but those treats have insinuated themselves into the daily diets of most people.

    "There's an oversupply of cheap sugary foods, clearly regulation is needed."

    The Department of Health in England has a set up voluntary agreements with the food industry as part of its responsibility deal.

    Health minister Lord Howe welcomed the report and said he wanted to see "businesses intensifying their efforts as well".

    He said: "To tackle the rising tide of obesity the industry, healthcare professionals, government and individuals all need to continue working together to get results, which is why our Call to Action sets out how important this is.

    "Government is already helping people make healthier choices by working with industry to reduce fat, salt and sugar in foods and by giving children and families advice on how to eat well, get active, and live longer through Change4Life."


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    • rate this

      Comment number 35.

      "what people have told us is they want help to swim with the tide rather than against the current to make the healthy choice the easy one," he said." baa baa baa. Won't belong before we dont' have to make choices about anything the government will do it all for us.......Why should I pay more for the odd fizzy drink because someone else can't take responsibility for their own health.

    • rate this

      Comment number 34.

      Whatever is done should be most effective at preventing children getting hooked on these sugary products early. So the limits on advertising may be most effective. As with smoking, stoppping children starting is most effective way. Smoking rates amongst men ahve fallen from apeak of 82% to just 21%.

    • rate this

      Comment number 33.

      I think it is a great idea, so long as the money is ringfenced for the NHS and for providing healthy and nutritious meals (no horse meat) for all school children. I also think that local councils should levy a litter tax on all fast food takeaways to clear up the garbage that they vomit out on to our streets.

    • rate this

      Comment number 32.

      If this group of doctors are so concerned about peoples health will they lobby to have cars and lorrys taken off the road because of the fumes ? no they won't because there will always be something thats bad for us.

    • rate this

      Comment number 31.

      Wont solve anything, will just make more money for the state. If people want something they will have it no matter the cost. Junk food is less than healthy food hence why people buy it. Alcohol and cigarettes which cause a lot more harm should be the focus, although they have proven that adding more taxes do not stop being using them.

    • rate this

      Comment number 30.

      I am fed up of the government deciding that I should pay more for food that I enjoy occasionally because other people can not exercise self control.

    • rate this

      Comment number 29.

      Walk down the high street, we have become a nation of fat people, this inculdes very young children, its unreal. Individials, themselves cannot see this, or are in denile. Am currently listening to a marketing company on radio 5, apparently there is nothing wrong? Why not tax the marketing companies to the hilt, they are complicit. As long as their money rolls in they dont give a damn.

    • rate this

      Comment number 28.

      The nanny state again. Has this push really come from doctors? I doubt it somehow.

    • rate this

      Comment number 27.

      Why is it a 500ml bottle of water is 85p, yet a 2 litre bottle of lemonade is 19p?, the water in both is the same yet the lemonade has extras for flavour. Even if you purchase the water, kids will still want some flavouring so it is necessary to buy squash as well, and isn't that the same as the pre-mixed stuff without the fizz, but then you can buy a soda stream and add that as well?

    • rate this

      Comment number 26.

      @17 "The majority of people in the UK are not overweight"

      Incorrect: Over 60% of the UK population are either overweight or obese.

    • rate this

      Comment number 25.

      @ 5. Spindoctor
      A quick google and you will find that the ph of coke is around 2.6, while stomach acid is 1.5-3.5. Your argument falls flat right there.

      I say ban the drinks completely, but lets come up with better than reasons than "look what it does to a coin", eh?

    • rate this

      Comment number 24.

      The idea that the obesity problem has parallels with the smoking problem is an interesting one. Many of us about are uneasy about 'the nanny state' but these policies have clearly saved lives and helped reduce misery. Perhaps it is worth actually trying some of these things rather than dismissing this report as 'a damp squib' in order to avoid facing up to the issue.

    • rate this

      Comment number 23.

      I'm most like some one from Bhutan, is that good or bad!

    • rate this

      Comment number 22.

      Those who don't think this would work: biggest thing that reduces smoking is taxing it.
      Those who think its interfering: well have you got any better ideas? We are all going to have to foot the massive health bill that increased obesity will bring- more diabetes, more diabetic complications etc etc. This is already a serious problem and obesity is notoriously hard to impact successfully.

    • rate this

      Comment number 21.

      According to your handy BMI-omatic i'm not fat, so hands off my coke-cola. Clearly i'm capable of working out how to be not fat without your meddling.

    • rate this

      Comment number 20.

      we get taxed enough, lets hope the polititions totally ignore the scientists on this one like they did with the drug advice!
      i doubt it though as this idea smells of pound notes.
      more wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.
      sod the fizzy drinks and tax the mansions!

    • rate this

      Comment number 19.

      Typical. Why is it always tax, tax tax!
      Why not make the healthier choices cheaper?
      Most people don't take home a doctors salary!

    • rate this

      Comment number 18.

      There should be clear evidence that another new tax would reduce obesity before being introduced on a whim. Another excuse for the Tories to tax the ordinary people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 17.

      I am all in favour of trying to pursued people to loose weight, but why is the 'solution' always tax? It is so unfocused. The majority of people in the UK are not overweight so why do they have to pay more?

      Teach people that sugar free drinks are better for them and dispel rumors that they are somehow bad for you.

      Tax is like cracking a nut with an axe. Let's have a little more finesse please.

    • rate this

      Comment number 16.

      Once again the same message which isn't working. It has already been shown that saturated fat does not cause obesity or heart disease.

      Give up sugar, other sweeteners, wheat and vegetable oils to lose weight easily. I am losing over a pound a week following these rules without dieting!

      Please don't blame willpower, people typically get fat at a rate of 20 calories a day. Hormones make you fat.


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