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 135.

      Just wish the BBC would stop using fat torsos to make their point. I'm quite over-weight, struggled with it for years - the causes of my problem is depression and being trapped in a poor social environment. I do voluntary work and am a full time carer for my wife and adult daughter. I feel 10 times worse when I see such pics, it doesn't shock me out of my fat, it just makes me more depressed.

    • rate this

      Comment number 134.

      Every time someone says "Ban fizzy drinks"; its never acknowledged that all you have to do is only drink diet ones!

    • rate this

      Comment number 133.

      Type 2 Diabetes accounts for 75% of all Diabetes cases in the UK & is linked to obesity. In the same way it took a long hard look at the numbers dying from lung cancer to change our attitude to smoking the same will happen with junk food & drinks. If it's acceptable to have a ban on junk food/drink in my local private school why can't the same apply to the local state schools?

    • rate this

      Comment number 132.

      20% tax on a can of Coke at say 50p so that will be 60p then.... big wow well done 'The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' you have just reduced the nations fat problem!

      Maybe you should have taken economics or maths?

    • rate this

      Comment number 131.

      Why just fizzy drinks?

      Why not all sugar?

      Sugar is not an essential ingredient for life and good health, actually the opposite, but it is included in many foods and drinks where it is not required at all.

      Why not a small "thin end of the wedge" tax on sugar to be increased gradually as we get used to cutting back?

      This would minimise discomfort as manufacturers gradually cut back.

    • rate this

      Comment number 130.

      Putting junk food adverts on after the watershed isn't going to stop kids going into a shop and buying things is it. It's also not gonna stop the older faties being brainwashed into heading down to Macdonalds.

    • rate this

      Comment number 129.

      How can the food industry claim this report is lacking in imagination, will there be claims against these companies in the future? if a life is limited by obesity surely there will be such cases in the future.

    • rate this

      Comment number 128.

      Its high time the 'doctors' paid more attention to 'science' and took a step back from the incessant blaming of Saturated Fat. The BIG culprit in all of this is the prevalence of SUGAR in cheap processed foods. The market has created an insidious abundance of cheap sugar laced foods. Education is the key. Don't buy processed.

      Why are processed meals cheaper than buying whole quality foods?

    • rate this

      Comment number 127.

      Its not fizzy drinks that need taxing, its the policy of the supermarkets who ALWAYS have sweets/crisps/fizzy drinks on 'offer'. I hardly ever see healthy options on special offers.

      For the record, the government recently slapped 20% VAT on Protein shakes. No matter which option you choose, why is tax always the answer?

    • rate this

      Comment number 126.

      Children hopping on and off buses, often for one stop only is quite a common sight in London, with little PE in school and a sedentary life at home, is it any wonder the children are getting fatter. Exercise is the answer to a lot of these problems, not more taxation.

    • rate this

      Comment number 125.

      Make domestic science compulsory in schools for boys and girls. Instead of taxing the consumer, tax the processed food industry and manufacturers. Give tax breaks to local grocers and butchers.

      Stop hammering the individual and blaming us for corporate greed and supermarket price wars!

    • rate this

      Comment number 124.

      Flashman & Co are not worried about your health hence they are blowing the NHS to bits. Tax tax tax Flash wants to keep you poor so he can keep his buddies the bankers rich. I see he's off again to give another £60 million to the poor in India after taking it from the poor & disabled in the UK! This guy can't stay in England for more than a week & quite frankly I don't blame the posh boy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 123.

      "Obesity is the "single greatest" threat to health, say the doctors"

      So anti smoking and drinking has just been a ploy to tax . as long as you are not overweight you can smoke and drink as much as you want.

    • rate this

      Comment number 122.

      Yes, more taxes - the answer to everything.

      How about more education on the value of good food for starters? Maybe we could call it...ummm..."Home Economics" or something? Then how about another thing where people take responsibility for what they feed their kids?

      I suppose these are extreme suggestions...let's just raise taxes eh?

    • rate this

      Comment number 121.

      It's a flippin racket and all about profit, same as crime - instead of dealing with the root cause our beloved leaders make an industry out of it providing mind numbing jobs for a pittance and shed loads of profit for them and their mates - scum.

    • rate this

      Comment number 120.

      To be honest I'm gobsmacked that in this day and age this still demand for the sugar option. Why aren't people opting for the diet options automatically? Very low calorie, same price and same taste. Ridiculous

    • rate this

      Comment number 119.

      Just because some people can't control themselves, we all pay more. Great. Education is what's needed - many people have no idea of the calories in soft drinks. On another note, sweeteners are not the answer - they're just as bad in other ways. Give me sugar any day over that laboratory muck.

    • rate this

      Comment number 118.

      Ban this, Ban that, Tax this, don’t allow that. Prohibit them from selling us their produce ...
      Or you could just make your own decisions

    • rate this

      Comment number 117.

      A completely daft idea. What about diet fizzy drinks which are only 1 calorie per litre? And wouldn't a tax on soft drinks increase the already extortionate prices of non-alcoholic drinks in pubs and clubs? I thought the government was trying to encourage people not to drink and drive! When will "big brother" realise that slapping taxes on things is not the answer to every problem?

    • rate this

      Comment number 116.

      How about doing something positive and providing lessons to people on how to cook? So many people today, particularly those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, don't have that skill and resort to ready meals and fast food. Adding tax to something doesn't make any difference other than making George Osborne happy but teaching children and adults how to make meals from fresh produce does.


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