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 95.

      Oh another tax - what a good idea!
      If doctors spent more time treating patients and less time getting themselves in the newspapers and on the news maybe they'd be less staffordshires.

    • rate this

      Comment number 94.

      I'm sick to death of a miniscule minority whose hobby is controlling other people telling me how to live MY life. The more they tax and ban and coerce, the more determined I become not to do what they want. One thing's for sure, I've already paid more than enough tax and NI to cover it if I ever do need any medical treatment in the future.

    • rate this

      Comment number 93.

      Are the government really that naïve to think it's about fizzy drinks? it's the people spend loads down the biscuit and cake isles then off to the crisp section that are the problem, with no exercise.

      Go back to the 80's and look at Wimbledon and see McEnroe drinking sugary drinks, did not affect him because he exercised.

    • rate this

      Comment number 92.

      And where would all this extra tax go? MPs' salaries? MPs' expenses? If the government is really bothered about the nations health, because I doubt this has really from doctors, why does it send people to get shot in pointless wars? Why not increase funding for cancer, dementure and research of other terrible diseases?

    • rate this

      Comment number 91.


      That's easy, it's call genetics.
      And it hardly seems fair to blame 'these docs' for that.

    • rate this

      Comment number 90.

      Another attempt to mind business. I am waiting for the next expert to say how increasing obesity affects climate change!

    • rate this

      Comment number 89.

      20% tax will definitely reduce the intake but so it will reduce the income from tax that it generates.

      Simply ban the sugar and replace with alternative sweeteners.

    • rate this

      Comment number 88.

      While I agree taxing isn't the way to go, I disagree with the notion that unhealthy food is cheaper. It simply isn't. Good quality, healthy food does appear to cost more, but as it has better nutritional value that means you need to buy and eat less. Our culture though is convenience which is the problem. Learn to cook instead of buying ready meals and get some exercise. It's that simple.

    • rate this

      Comment number 87.

      Well it works for Smoking, and Alcohol, and car usages.

      Oh no wait, Taxing something does not make it less appealing it just makes it cost more (and that special added bonus of more tax the solution to all the worlds problems)

    • rate this

      Comment number 86.

      And yet again the answer is to tax it. Anyone who finds that after a 20% rise they can no longer afford fizzy drinks is already in serious trouble. You would have to double or triple the price before you saw an effect and most people I see use the diet ones anyway which depending on who you believe are actually worse for you. If they want to use the tax system give a tax break on healthy food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 85.

      All the bus stops and wall posters where I live have fast food advertising - I want to go out and spray vomit on them.

    • rate this

      Comment number 84.

      I agree with a tax on all unhealthy food and drink.
      Let the fatties fund the extra cost to the NHS that their inability to eat sensibly causes.
      The more they eat and drink the more tax they should pay.
      But I expect most fatties are socialists who would argue that I should pay their medical costs.
      Get off your bum and get a job.

    • rate this

      Comment number 83.

      This is idiotic. If something is actually bad then ban it, don't just use it to raise tax.
      I cant wait to see a legally enforcable definition of junk food What about Fizzy mineral water? Fizzy wine? Fizzy.....cider..... Fizzy drinks that are zero calories like Pepsi Zero?
      This is unenforcable, nanny state, headline grabbing nonesense.
      It won't stop the stupid eating badly.

    • rate this

      Comment number 82.

      Finally some serious proposals to resolve a serious problem. Obesity is a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even certain types of cancer. If we can start acting on this national crisis soon, then we may be able to avoid the wave of health complications the next generation will bring, and save considerable amount of money for the NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 81.

      Nothing will change until the rates of diabetes & other obesity linked disease start using up the NHS budget will anything be done. The levels of disability associated with it will also have huge costs. We can't stick our heads in the sand, it will cost the tax payer more in the long run. Anything to get the amount eaten down & activity up needs to be tried.

    • rate this

      Comment number 80.

      Instead of adding another tax, why don't they increase the number of good quality play areas, increase the amount of PE children get at school. Make sports activities affordable for all and available to all not just those with money. If children are busy with activities they have less time to go to junk food shops or sit around playing computer games. Much better for the kids than taxing food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 79.

      This is a classic case of nanny state gone mad! Doctors want to up the price of fizzy drinks because a quarter of the nation is to obese, so they feel it necessary to hit the other three quarters of the nation with more taxation because of what they may choose to drink! This will not help, education, parental control and food discipline and self control is whats needed. As a former fatty I know!

    • rate this

      Comment number 78.

      I am not overweight - far from it. Suffering from depression, I actually struggle to keep my weight *up*. I am angered and utterly dismayed by this relentless drive to lower calories in everything whilst also driving up costs. It is crushing to see the foods I enjoy most repackaged in smaller portions with lower calorie recipies. Stop tilting at windmills before you starve me completely.

    • rate this

      Comment number 77.

      Have a walk down the main walkwalk in the Wolverhampton shopping centre. There are four Greggs outlets within 200 yards. God knows how many "others" there are. There is a reason these outlets are flourishing, they are cheap and very unhealthy. Visit Wolverhampton Hospital, right in the heart of the hospital, near the cardiac unit is a large healthy Greggs. This sums it up really.

    • rate this

      Comment number 76.

      I very much welcome this. The "ban advertisements until the watershed" only looks at Tv advertising though. What about all the other advertising that these companies do via social media, interactive websites and sponsorship of children's sporting events?


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