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

Related Stories

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.

Calculate your BMI

Select: Metres | Feet

Select: Kilograms | Pounds | Stone


    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."


    More on This Story

    Related Stories

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


    This entry is now closed for comments

    Jump to comments pagination
    • rate this

      Comment number 215.

      It's not surprising to hear this given that even so-called healthy drinks like fruit juices say that the amount of sugar added is 25% of the recommended daily intake. If the horse meat scandal is a wake up call for the processed food industry then now is the time to start cutting out the amount of added sugar, salt and saturated fat.

    • rate this

      Comment number 214.

      You cannot compare smoking and eating. Eating is necessary. Obesity crusaders like to forget that the calorie is only a unit of energy and that the energy expended through living must be replaced to continue living. That point matters to people who are underweight and struggle to keep their weight up. In US (can't find UK figure) 9% are underweight. Don't tell us what we can't eat.

    • rate this

      Comment number 213.

      Why tar us all with the same brush? People who follow an otherwise healthy diet & are a healthy weight should be able to consume such items without having to pay extra tax. Its those who lack self-discipline who should be targeted. Perhaps limiting free care for obese ppl would help- would save the NHS a fortune & the money ppl would pay for care means they have less to spend on bad food choices.

    • rate this

      Comment number 212.

      Maybe if they stopped putting things into food to make them addictive, I am pretty sure a lot processed food has something in it to either alter the look or taste to appeal to customers and keep people buying more.
      It is also clear after the horsemeat scandal that any processed food on the cheap side could have substitute material I doubt it is limited to meat only.

    • rate this

      Comment number 211.

      Why is always so difficult to find carbonated water at reasonable prices, in reasonably sized bottles? 19 or 20p for 2 litre bottles in Sainsbury's and Tesco. It should be more available everywhere, in half litres.

      Maybe we should all quaff real ale instead - eliminate the fizz & sugar.

    • rate this

      Comment number 210.

      Ban mobile phones for the obese.
      The monthly saving could be used for buying healthier food or books on willpower and exercise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 209.

      Lets enjoy things while we can, who knows what the future holds!

      Another diet coke please!

    • rate this

      Comment number 208.

      I'm curious who were the Doctors calling for tax on fizzy drinks? linked to the government perhaps, I mean if they stick a Doctor on the news bulletins surely people will think it's true and ok to tax us, yeah right.

    • rate this

      Comment number 207.

      Increasing the tax in not the answr - tax is huge on petrol, smoking, and drinking yet millions still do it. You can't simply ban fizzy drinks for many reasons, and it's only a tiny part of the problem. Fat and exercise (or lack of) is the problem, but if you focus on "being fat" you may end up with many eating disorders. Educate people, don't don't just ban (or tax) things.

    • rate this

      Comment number 206.

      I don't think a fat tax will have anything more than a marginal effect. Like drug addicts, many obese people are addicted to food and habitually overeat. It's an ingrained habit/addiction that is not going to be solved easily. A mixture of education, better availability of healthy food, traffic light labeling for processed foods and help for those with problems is needed.

    • rate this

      Comment number 205.

      Ok, I admit I was wrong.

      I thought the do-good brigade would tax cheeseburgers first...

      (they never tire of their mission to tell you how to live your life)

    • rate this

      Comment number 204.

      Just another attempt by the nanny state to shovel more of our hard earned money into their coffers.
      Getting people to take responsibility for their behaviour makes more sense, However, I realize that is truly a pipe dream.

    • rate this

      Comment number 203.

      Im certain that what the Doctor's say about the dangers of consumption etc is true, but what business is it of theirs? I go to a Dr for advice and help, I havent handed them decision making over my health and/or life choices. This is typical of the current modus for professional org's, they (like the Govt) are to busy nannying people. We must all take personal responsibility for our health.

    • rate this

      Comment number 202.

      I am overweight. It is something that worries me but I'm a comfort eater. I don't drink alcohol and I don't smoke. When I get stressed or depressed I turn to food. Taxing the food that I eat won't make the slightest bit of difference! Oh and I have been waiting for an nhs referral to speak to someone about my depression for almost five months now! nuf said!

    • rate this

      Comment number 201.

      Instead of taxing sugar in drinks why not introduce a food standard banning it, which will leave the only choice as zero calorie drinks which taste little different than their sugary counterparts.

    • rate this

      Comment number 200.

      It all boils down to our culture as it is today. The new normal is to relinquish responsibility for your actions. The list includes popular HYS topics:

      Obesity (eating)
      Anti-social behaviour (parenting)
      Welfare dependency (choices)

      Apparently only elitist snobs take repsonsibility for themselves.

      It is the baby-boomers indulgent flirtation with socialism that has got us into this mess.

    • rate this

      Comment number 199.

      The real answer is community service because people with a cause and plenty to do, don't get fat. All those spare calories could be burnt up making our cities, towns and villages nicer places to live

    • rate this

      Comment number 198.

      These people who become lard arses don't care, they really don't. If you use burger joints you see them buying heaps of junk food and soft drinks and taking their kids there to get them overweight too! Until these people want to stop being fatso and slim down, nothing will happen. Just the same as smoking, you have to want to do something about it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 197.

      What i dont like is the use of the word 'Tax'. Its use represents much of what is fundamentally wrong with this country. Tax is a social responsibility and should be a fair payment we all make to support society. But here we are talking about it again as though its some sort of punitive function to punish those who smoke, drink, drive or are more successful.Taxation is not for social engineering.

    • rate this

      Comment number 196.

      I for one am fed up with this lot telling me what to eat and drink
      I will continue to drink what I like no matter how much it costs


    Page 77 of 87


    More Health stories



    Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
    Take me there

    Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

    This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.