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 175.

      Playing Devils Advocate here but how about no free NHS treatment for diseases associated with obesity? You stuff your face with rubbish food, you don't get a replacement kidney when yours fail due to your diabetes caused by your diet? Just a thought and given the way the NHS is crumbling around our ears, one I suspect, that might be seriously considered in future.

    • rate this

      Comment number 174.

      I'm so pleased that our doctors are so knowledgeable in tax policy as well as medicine.

    • rate this

      Comment number 173.

      Tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax Tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax Tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax Tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax tax

    • rate this

      Comment number 172.

      Free gyms/swimming wouldn't go a miss...

    • rate this

      Comment number 171.

      Tax again?
      Why not over-tax everything, then only those who can afford it will survive while all else live on bread and water.

      Why is the default solution always to tax it? It's not a deterrent at all - it merely increases the burden on the less well off.

    • rate this

      Comment number 170.

      The UK has become little America - fast food and microwave dinners are the norm. Not to mention the dependence on computer gaming ("Just nipping upstairs for a game of football"). Its not the amount you eat or drink, its the lack exercise that isn't burning the additional calories off.

      Quick sell all the playing fields and open spaces off and cut funds for any public sporting venues...

    • rate this

      Comment number 169.

      Where exactly do these interfering doctors think everyone is going to live when they have managed to keep us alive for 150 years??? Maybe if they had the guts to enter the over population debate which is badly needed at the highest levels & suggest ways of limiting population, then their current comments might be valid!

    • rate this

      Comment number 168.

      A surcharge to be levied on fizzy drinks.

      Another bloody carbon tax!

    • rate this

      Comment number 167.

      Just an example of the states pathetic attempt to tell you how to live your life. The only reason that the government would sanction this is to get a slice of a a £14.5bn industry. People need to chose how to live there own lives not be babysat by the state.

    • rate this

      Comment number 166.

      Now there is soemthing interesting. Until I stopped sm,oking, many years ago, I was merely overweight. Then I became obese as I ate rather than smoked. My exercise levels remained much the same viz 4 or 5 miles walked a day. So they cured the smoker and caused mthe obese. Next bright idea from the doctors?

    • rate this

      Comment number 165.

      the same old story, the same old answer taxation! why not subsidize bottled water, make it cost a few pence but then there's no money in that is there?

      why not reintroduce the light tax or maybe a fresh air tax.... oh hang on the carbon tax... they're already on with that one!

    • rate this

      Comment number 164.

      I love the fact that Doctors still think this government cares what they think about anything.

    • rate this

      Comment number 163.

      There are a lot of people on here who need to take a good long look int he mirror. All the "faties" vitriol on here is disturbing. Another scape goat for peoples own insecurities. We've had smokers, the overweight and i'm waiting for the next round of alochol related stories just to finish the set. Fatty food is more addictive than heroin, if they want to get people onto healthy food subsidize it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 162.

      The danger with this is that people will end up believeing that all they have to to to be fit and healthy is not drink fizzy drinks or eat burger and chips.

      There's so much more to it than that and, besides, the occasional burger and chips won't do you any harm.

    • rate this

      Comment number 161.

      Just have a straight tax on over weight people (everything else is taxed) - cut out the fizzy drinks.


    • rate this

      Comment number 160.

      Great idea - So long as we make it Tax Neutral and use it to replace tax on other things.

      I don't know about Fiscal Drift or Fiscal Creep. I ended up having to close my business under the last government due to a Fiscal Tsunami.

    • rate this

      Comment number 159.

      1st. Needs science to back up claims it is more unhealthy than other food. We don't even allow HFCS in europe.

      2nd. What happens to other 'fatty foods', like bacon, sausages, chips, fried eggs, the stuff you see on a typical "english breakfast"...

      I won't support it unless it can be proven "fizzy drinks" are solely responsible for everyone's obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 158.

      Fat,sugar and salt must be labeled clearly as a percentage on all food. All pre-prepared food must be taxed to full Vat rate and the corresponding overall rate of Vat reduced to correspond.This of course will never happened as the supermarkets are now as powerful as the banks and the energy companies.

    • rate this

      Comment number 157.

      136. Malcolm Sutherland - What an idiotic statement, you are as bad as a former smoker going over the top in a hey look at me I did it so should everyone else.

    • rate this

      Comment number 156.

      I think it is time that people paying more tax should be penalized by an excise tax on tax... :)
      That will teach them!


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