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 355.

      Wouldn't it work better to regulate the calories allowed in soft drinks?

      That & the type of sugar used, it's well documented that corn syrup has an impact on feeling hungry. Corn syrup is used because it's sweeter & cheaper but they use more of it in soft drinks, scare tactics were been used to change eating habits but it's been proven to have led to an increase in obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 354.

      I actually don't care if the obese get ill and die young.
      From a green perspective its a good thing, they stop consuming resources when they are dead and that is good for the planet. It reduces the UK carbon footprint which helps the government meet its Kyoto targets.
      Thats why the approach is taxation not restriction. The goverment don't actaully want you to live longer, they can't afford it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 353.

      This is completely the wrong approach, it's once again a quick fix for a long-term problem. Perhaps the Government should encourage these people to lead an active lifestyle and contribute towards it?

      But then to blame the Government isn't the right approach either. People lack self-discipline and the mindset to get out there and do something. A sedate lifestyle is the ultimate cause of obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 352.

      Denmark recently removed a tax from fat and sugar because they found people going over the border to buy items and it hurt their industry.

      In the UK - thanks to devolution - we could just end up with people going into Wales or Scotland to buy their food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 351.

      BBC you are a journalistic disgrace.

      Your headline is 'tax fizzy drinks' whereas the actual story is SUGARY drinks. Do you know the difference? Can you find your backside with both hands?

      Perhaps the government should tax brain cells - the BBC might get a tax rebate.

    • rate this

      Comment number 350.

      Why not just replace the sugar with horse meat?

    • rate this

      Comment number 349.

      I watched an interview with one of the doctors behind this proposal. He didn't seem to understand what a calorie was!

      Do we need yet another fuel tax? Do we need educating beyond the basic . . if fuel in is greater than fuel consumption the excess is stored as fat.

      Eat less. Exercise more!

    • Comment number 348.

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

    • Comment number 347.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 346.

      AS with ALL actions the TAX route is simply part of a multi pronged attack on poor food. There also needs to be a muzzle on Journos that repeat the 'we are all so busy' mantra, a ban on Adverts that promote lazy foods, and so on. We need the dripping tap approach not a sledgehammer to include education, availability,lifestyle, and even Fashion. It is still your choice to die young if you want.

    • rate this

      Comment number 345.

      I am completely against tax on foods designed to change consumption habits. The main reason is that the tax affects the responsible eater/drinker whist having a minimal effect on the glutton. Also, taxing fizzy drinks would be the thin end of the wedge. They would move on to fatty foods next. Many of these are traditional delicacies, fine if eaten occasionally.

      The best strategy is EDUCATION!

    • rate this

      Comment number 344.

      Government has the power what goes into food and drink,especially when the consequences are looked at.I think they would prefer another tax which is not the answer

    • rate this

      Comment number 343.

      Another recycled article with a few name changes. This “tax on fizzy drinks” is as common as “traffic jams on easter weekend holiday getaway”.

      It’s all hot air because it’s not attacking the cause, the lack of education and self-control.

    • rate this

      Comment number 342.

      We will have gangsters supplying at the school gates.

    • rate this

      Comment number 341.

      I am a doctor in the UK in this area. Increasing taxation is misguided. We need to educate and enable healthy living so that is becomes desirable - not beat people up with more taxation. Nannying people to death is not the answer....more personal responsibility, not state intervention. That said, obesity and diabetes are major problems and people should wake up to the misery they bring.

    • rate this

      Comment number 340.

      Really?? Making something more expensive will stop people buying it? Make it less desireable? Very unlikley, chances are people will want it even more!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 339.

      None of these bans and restrictions will prevent obesity. I would love for research to be carried out which compares IQ to obesity? You may well find a tax on the stupid (other than the lottery) would be more effective.

    • rate this

      Comment number 338.

      This is typical of the government, yet another way to generate money.
      Why not lower the price of water & diluted water drinks !
      Same with food - lower the price of fruit to encourage the public to eat healthier.its not rocket science!

    • rate this

      Comment number 337.

      Obviously austerity is a myth if people can afford to buy fizzy drinks, or have they become part of peoples every day diet.
      Growing up in the 60's fizzy drinks were a luxury we had once a week if we were lucky,the same with sweets,there was only one fat boy in my primary school of 400 children and fast food takeaways didn't exist.
      If you've got money for fizzy drinks & sweets you're not hard up.

    • rate this

      Comment number 336.

      Where there is a tax, there is a loophole - anyone for shares in Soda Stream?


    Page 70 of 87


    More Health stories



    BBC © 2014 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.