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 295.

      Talk about becoming a 'nanny state'!! for heavens sake where is our freedom of choice?? smoking, drinking, eating, exercise etc. And it's 'All for our own good'. You can do as you like as long as you do as we say, (or are rich enough to pay the extra taxes).

    • rate this

      Comment number 294.

      268 you do not have to buy junk food when travelling. What is wrong with making yourself a cheese and salad sandwich, with decent bread such as rye bread rather than the standard soggy cardboard, to be followed by some fruit, which is just what I do when having a journey. You could even do this whilst on the go buying from a supermarket whilst travelling. Easy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 293.

      Dr Aseem Malhotra: "There's nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but those treats have insinuated themselves into the daily diets of most people."

      Has he evidence of that claim?
      Many's the time I've heard a fat person on a diet say the likes of "It's okay for me to have this cream bun because I didn't have one this morning like I usually do". By that logic they think they're eating less!

    • rate this

      Comment number 292.

      Fizzy drinks burn my tongue :(

    • rate this

      Comment number 291.

      Do people never look into a mirror nowdays.
      What happened to self respect.
      If you see your guts hanging down to your knees or a body shape like Billy Bunter doesn't it tell yousomething?

    • rate this

      Comment number 290.

      It's going to be unfare on the people who has the occational junk food, with a frizzy drink.

    • rate this

      Comment number 289.

      This was thought up by a bunch of doctors or bankers? a load of bankers most likely, masquerading as doctors.why don't they suggest closing sweet shops and banning chocolates,crisps and candy, as eating habits develop in childhood. Oh, they can't, because they want people to pay more tax, not to be healthy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 288.

      im may be being cynical here but isnt this a convenient time to take the eyes and public glare away from the horsemeat scandal by raising the question about obesity, junk food and sugary drinks. How can we honestly say that the fizzy drinks are the issue when we dont even know what meat is in our BEEF lasagne!

    • rate this

      Comment number 287.

      I am against this proposal, what would help is providing sporting facilities to more people. There is nothing in my area for people with disabilities. Instead of spending billions on entertaining the rich and sports fans and encouraging people to watching tv for long periods spend money on improving access to sport. Also the tax for soft drinks will just encourage more wasteful government spending

    • rate this

      Comment number 286.

      How about a tax on fat people instead?

      But seriously why tax something many people can enjoy in moderation just because other people can't?

      Not really solving the problem. Better and cheaper food/drinks which are not as bad for people.

      Get people to take some personal responsibility.

      It is true that obesity is a big pressure on the NHS, but no need for another "stealth" tax!

    • rate this

      Comment number 285.

      Dear 'experts', If you were really experts you would know that such taxes do not stop people buying the product. if it did, there would be fewer cars on the road, not more. And banning the TV ads doesn't stop parents instilling in their children the idea of the often daily pilgrimage to the temple of fast food!

    • rate this

      Comment number 284.

      What an utterly stupid idea!

      There are many potentially fattening cheap foods, so are 'Crisps, Chocolate & Ice Cream' next on the list?

      If the govt proposed additional taxes on motorists to discourage unnecessary journeys, then those dependent on their cars for commuting to work would quite rightly complain. How is this any different?

      In reality this would just be yet another tax on the poor!

    • rate this

      Comment number 283.

      Tax tax tax, is that their answer to everything?

      The budget deficit isn't because we aren't taxing enough, it's because we are spending too much.

    • rate this

      Comment number 282.

      Why is the BMI calculator on this page? It's absolute bunk. Nothing more than a vague estimation tool for very general trends in large population samples, with no relevance to the individual, it's misleading to have it on here.
      Tax doesn't deter, just makes people poorer. This is a world where people pay for bottled tapwater.
      Bottom line, eat less, eat better, exercise more, problem solved.

    • rate this

      Comment number 281.

      [Insert your personal acceptable % here] of obese people are lazy & lack personal responsibility, professing endless excuses as to why it's not their fault & they can't do anything about it. That won't change no matter what you do, so you have to force them to pay for the consequences of their behaviour. I'm not sure this is the best way to do it, but something must be done & this is something.

    • rate this

      Comment number 280.

      Oh dear! I see the 'put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em brigade are out in force again.Humans are programmed to expend the least amount of energy on obtaining the highest calorific return.That's so that when times of shortage come around,we have fat reserves to see us through.Unfortunately times of shortage don't come round anymore .What can you do?.Fat people are just doing what's natural.

    • rate this

      Comment number 279.

      And I thought it was a politicains job to propose taxes - not doctors!

      As has been said before with tobacco, if it's that bad then ban it and await the public backlash! Easy to see which of the 2 groups has t face the electorate!

      BTW "introduce a tax on fizzy drinks that contribute to obesity" - that'll be Beer, Lager & Cider then - and sparkling wines!

    • Comment number 278.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 277.

      "Further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20%" Great, you're proposing extra taxation on fruit juices now?!

    • rate this

      Comment number 276.

      "A reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres."

      So now in addition to not being able to have a drink after my workout (health fascists closed the bar) I'm not going to be able to top up on calories?

      And this is going to make me more healthy? Or just not go to the gym?


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