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 335.

      Whilst agree with some of the comments saying that it up to the individual, but we must not forget children are guided by their parents, and if the parents allow them to eat too much junk food, fizzy drinks and sweets then it will be a problem when these children get older, and remember it was not there choice at the time.

    • rate this

      Comment number 334.

      How can you decide which foods are worse than others and by how much? With smoking you either do or don't. With eating the range of sugar or fat in a product is infinite - crisps, cake, cheese, chocolate, cookies, candy.
      It makes more sense to put a 50% tax on everything stating with the letter 'C'.

    • rate this

      Comment number 333.

      Soon we'll have to change our underwear six times a day and wear it on the outside so we can be monitored.

    • rate this

      Comment number 332.

      Here's another perspective ... the more you increase the price of "unhealthy" food and drink, the less money some people will have to spend on healthy food and drink.

    • rate this

      Comment number 331.

      Another example of our society looking at "what can we control next".

      Use an unproven argument that this costs the country more so that we allow further intrusion into our freedoms.

      Surely if the big brands paid their taxes as they should then the more they sell the more money goes back into the system to fund healthcare etc.

      I actually think all advertising should be banned. And I mean all.

    • rate this

      Comment number 330.

      The Nanny State strikes again!

    • rate this

      Comment number 329.

      3 Years ago was 24st. Went down to 12st 4lb, went back up to 15st. Now down to 14st. It's not about healthy decisions. Food for me is like a drug. At times it gets the upper hand, then fight back. For people like me taxing fizzy drinks would make as much difference as taxing alcohol/heroin does/would for addicts. The calorie count PROMINENT in BIG NUMBERS on the packaging would be far more useful.

    • rate this

      Comment number 328.

      There is no such thing as "unhealthy" food, only an unhealthy diet. There is nothing wrong with an occasional burger and chips or a pizza for tea as long as it is part of a balanced diet. The problems occur when that becomes the mainstay of someone's diet, and the only way to change that is through education and not by increasing taxes.

    • rate this

      Comment number 327.

      Something tells me docs want another pay and pension rise...funded by yet more swingeing taxation and creeping control of our lives...

      Research has found high levels of drink and drug abuse among doctors. Doctor heal thyself - and stay out of my life!

    • rate this

      Comment number 326.

      I am getting extremely fed-up reading frequently that Doctors say don't do/eat this etc., and that we should tax to ensure they do it. Suggest they spend their time (and directly or indirectly our money) helping people live the life style they want. Perhaps we could cut tax by cutting the funding that allows some of these studies.

    • rate this

      Comment number 325.

      @coffee rider - Answer to that is obese people pay taxes too which go towards funding the NHS. Can't ask them to pay into it whilst telling them they can't get anything back.

    • rate this

      Comment number 324.

      No we don't need fizzy drinks; we also don't need a lot of other things to exist (not live). Maybe we should all just eat nutritional supplements doled out by the establishment.

      Or maybe we should ask ourselves why these people who think they know it all have so much time on their hands while being on the public payroll?

    • rate this

      Comment number 323.

      Ah, "Tax", the English silver bullet that often misses its target. So obesity is nothing to do with the addiction to 24hr TV, Facebook, Texting, On screen through lunchbreaks, in short, our couch potato lifestyle. We are past the tipping point - more tax is a vote loser in rip off Britain. DC take note.

    • rate this

      Comment number 322.

      The sad thing is with Food I went to buy a Tuna Salad the other day it was £2.69 however I could have bought a bag of Chips next door for £ the maths

    • rate this

      Comment number 321.

      Now that they've had the olympics paid for by it's biggest sponsors (the public, via mcdonalds), I suppose they can roll this out now.

    • rate this

      Comment number 320.

      The answer is simple education on a healthy lifestyle, so everyone has an informed choice. The real issue behind increased child obeisity is a lack of exercise: most children and their parents spend too much time now "plugged" into things, rather than being outside exercising.

      A wider question is whether the NHS should pay for lifestyle choice treatment.

    • rate this

      Comment number 319.

      The food industry pays the for licences to fill food and drink with sweeteners like aspartame. Hidden monosodium glutamate! Breaking down tons of junk foods in our bodies only puts money into the hands of a disgraceful few in our society. Stop allowing the food and drinks industry the ability to make money from rubbish products, and teach our children about the benefits of nutrition at school.

    • rate this

      Comment number 318.

      ban junk food ads? how about banning alcohol ads for a start?

    • rate this

      Comment number 317.

      Tax on fizzy drinks because the sugar in it is bad for you. What about diet versions? Are they going to tax that for the same reason? Salt is bad for you too. How about making that illegal?

    • rate this

      Comment number 316.

      It looks as if these doctors were trained under the Labour rule of ethics, if people enjoy, use, eat, drink, drive, ride or cook anything slap a tax on it. Taxed to death has a whole new meaning. Ask the Lib-Dem parasites how they feel about taxing anyone and anything.


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