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 155.

      Drink,fags,petrol all of these things are taxed to the limit,it makes no odds nor should it.Today,everybody thinks we all should survive like a skinny vegetarian monk life with pleasure banned,no different sizes,looks or appetites and live forever.Just back off Nanny State,if fat people die younger they cost us less unlike those boring people mentioned.

    • rate this

      Comment number 154.

      Throughout my life time fizzy drinks and cakes and chocolate have always been available and my generation was not obese. However, with so much gloom produced by the last successive governments I am not surprised many folk have taken to comfort eating, drinking and smoking.

    • rate this

      Comment number 153.

      "132.TuRbO-DD wrote
      20% tax on a can of Coke at say 50p so that will be 60p then.... big wow "

      Indeed, but then again 20% on a £3 glass of coke in a club will increase the price to £3.60. So much for the anti-drink-drive initiative!

    • rate this

      Comment number 152.

      Typical arrogance and ignorance from doctors.

      Fizzy drinks have only a tiny part to play in obesity.

      Sweets & non-fizzy drinks also contribute, as do many fast-foods, quick meals at home (burgers, pizza etc), and lack of parental control at an early age.

      And the big one - lack of exercise sitting in front of games consoles.

      So lets punish those who eat and drink sensibly.

    • Comment number 151.

      This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

    • rate this

      Comment number 150.

      Excercise good for you? I am overweight and decided to do something about it....started to go swimming a few times a week....not much I know but its a start. After a short while I stated suffering from Athlete's Foot, and am now suffering from a bad dose of cellulitis which meant curtailing a holiday, most of which expense will probably not be reclaimable. These busy bodies should go away.

    • rate this

      Comment number 149.

      Again, it's all down to what's in the stuff we put in our mouth.
      Vast quantities of sugar and god knows (because the FSA doesn't) what else in fizzy drinks.

    • rate this

      Comment number 148.

      Just come across this item and the comments .. and I totally agree with FishOnTwoWheels.

      How many times have we heard all this? And then the 'gov' wastes most of the tax taken in!

      There are a lot of people who have a sense of personal responsibility, sensible moderation etc.. Let's fund a system of giving out brains to the rest.

    • rate this

      Comment number 147.

      Too many calories not enough exercise its that simple. If you drink litres of coca cola instead of treating it like a treat & eat fast food every day then your end up obese eventually. Personal responsibility coupled with serious education of both adults & children and vastly more control placed on what goes into everyday food in supermarkets is what is required. Tax alone does nothing.

    • rate this

      Comment number 146.

      Lifestyle and dietary education is the answer, but it would be a long uphill struggle and I doubt it will ever happen.

      I occasionally help teach climbing and ice climbing to 16-18 years olds, many are so overweight and unfit that they cannot even walk to the start of the climb carrying a pack with their equipment in, let alone actual do any climbing. Worrying trend.

    • rate this

      Comment number 145.

      I don't see why people who eat 'junk' food, but are not obese, should be punished with a tax. I eat a lot of 'junk' food and drink, but I am not fat, which is what most people are. I exercise regularly, using weights, jogging and occasionaly xbox kinect and the wii. If there are some fat people out there, then they should exercise more. People have to start to take responsibility for them selves.

    • rate this

      Comment number 144.

      Who is coming up with these ideas?!! Saturated fat does not cause obesity. We are oversupplied in supermarkets with cheap 'convenience' -sugar & wheat rich carbohydrates. Just look at the cheap deals at your local sainsburys! Have medical experts looked at the fact that our hormones are messed up as a result of these and other killer chemicals & processes involved in producing our food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 143.

      I think as well it's a reflection of the need to get back to basics, many primary schools have exercise equipment that goes unused, cooking classes have been replaced by the constant push to qualifications, but at what cost? We are an unfit nation that's for sure.

      Something has to happen but taxing fizzy drinks is not the answer, it's an excuse to make more money from us.

    • rate this

      Comment number 142.

      Anything the Government or society has tried over the last decades (remember the exercise instructors on breakfast TV?) has not worked. Those that chose to ignore them have. So, why doesn't the Government just save money and simply appear to be concerned:

      Just add more health warnings to the packaging.
      Overeating leads to obesity?
      Exercise after consumption?


    • rate this

      Comment number 141.

      Who were sponsors of London 2012 Olympics?

      Coca Cola and MacDonalds by any chance?

    • rate this

      Comment number 140.

      It's not just fizzy drinks that do it that cause obesity. It's the overwhelming accessibility of all junk foods combined with the fact that people are less physically active.
      Tax isn't the answer. Encouraging people to cook healthy foods as well as exercising more would be a better method. Doctors should encourage this before turning to taxation!

    • rate this

      Comment number 139.

      An alternative solution, of course, is to tax the patient and not the product. I.e. if you require health care you have to pay according to your BMI. Not sure that would be popular.

    • rate this

      Comment number 138.

      I'm all for treating food like alcohol or tobacco. But which food? Too much about the cause of obesity is still unknown. Too much of the conventional wisdom about nutrition is being challenged. The link between dietary fat and body fat is not proven. Why tax only fizzy drinks? Why not all products containing refined sugar? Where will the tax revenues go? Research into obesity?

    • rate this

      Comment number 137.

      What goes around comes around - we are now seeing the results of selling off school playing fields.

      Bring back sports in schools, football rugby, tennis cricket, netball etc and make it compulsory for every child to do at least one sport after school.

      Not enough hours in a school day - start school at 8am finish at 2pm - plenty of daylight both in summer and winter.

      Effort = reward, by all!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 136.

      I agree with this, but we must go much further. Employers should be given the right to sack people who are obese.

      I was 19 stone this time last year, and I signed off work and spent the next 6 months losing 3.5 stone. Today I am heavier than 75% of men in the UK in my age group. I still have a long way to go. Dieting is hard, hard work and requires hours of physical exercise every day.


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