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 375.

      Slap a tax on fizzy pop then you have to tax chocolate, cakes, biscuits etc. Surely the better solution is to put less sugar in processed food and confectionery, not raise taxes on it. And what about making good quality food cheaper? A family on a tight budget is going to buy a cheap 50p loaf before the £2 wholemeal one, its a simple matter of economics.

    • rate this

      Comment number 374.

      Please, no more tax.

      All we hear from government is more tax and more tax.

      If fizzy drinks, alcohol or tobacco are so bad, then just ban them. But no, keep them out there and tax them. Typical.

      We are adults and make adult decisions. A person can become obese on chocolate bars or fast foods without fizzy drinks. Pathetic!

    • rate this

      Comment number 373.

      When will they bring back home economics in school? Start them young, healthy eating is much easier than waiting till they are adults

    • rate this

      Comment number 372.

      Put the price up! The standard outcry for anything which is considered bad for us and the government is always happy to do so to help line their coffers. Let’s ignore the millions spent on advertising, unhealthy food is engrained in our society, available on every corner and advertised heavily. If we tried to tackle it properly it would upset big business, so just increase the price!

    • rate this

      Comment number 371.

      If the government wants to raise more money, why don't they sell the NHS? Oh! They are doing!

    • rate this

      Comment number 370.

      If you drink/eat or do anything the goverment will tax it no matter what.

    • rate this

      Comment number 369.

      What a surprise - public sector representatives (doctors this time) calling for more fodder for their own employer.
      The most bloated and overweight body in this country is the public sector. Maybe we should have less taxes, not more. Then those on low incomes might be able to afford proper food instead of the cheap rubbish they currently fill themselves with.

    • rate this

      Comment number 368.

      I completely agree with this, but when I see obese people at mcdonalds, burger king I think its shocking, just cause its a cheap quick and easy meal, no nutrition! think this would be a great idea but we should also look into subsidising healthy food (fruit and veg) as they have gone up in price quite dramaticly, but then again.. its all about portion control isnt it?

    • rate this

      Comment number 367.

      More Nanny State stuff!! Taxing something does not stop people using it so where is all this 'reduction' going to come from?? Also, it just makes an item artificially dearer for those who buy the odd can or for guests.This would then cause inflation (LOL!!) Leave us alone!!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 366.

      "172. Charlotte
      Free gyms/swimming wouldn't go a miss..."

      Of all the things the country could spend tax income on, you think we should be using it to provide FREE gyms and swimming? That would cost the tax payer a fortune, and I highly doubt the cost would be offset by reduced NHS costs as a result.

      Here's an idea: put some trainers on and go for a jog. Stepping outdoors is already free.

    • rate this

      Comment number 365.

      Is this tax on sugary drinks going to include fruit juice? There is more sugar in many pure fruit juices than there is in fizzy drinks. Personally I would rather drink fruit juice than a drink that is full of artificial sweeteners.
      The main problem is that high fat and sugar foods tend to be the ones on offer in the supermarkets and more easily available on the high street for a quick snack.

    • rate this

      Comment number 364.

      I agree about banning fizzy drinks and junk food because you will easily be fat.

    • rate this

      Comment number 363.

      I don't think anyone has the right to dictate to you what you eat or drink. If there is a problem with obesity, then tackle it at the root cause. Taxing unhealthy food will not stop someone consuming it. Education from a very early age is the way to go

    • rate this

      Comment number 362.

      I'm glad I don't like fizzy drinks. I'm glad I've not been brainwashed by the food industry into shouting "nanny state" every time the obesity debate occurs.

    • rate this

      Comment number 361.

      Utterly ridiculous, now, no only do we have govt interference in every aspect of our lives, we also have a body of unelected health fanatics picking a weekly target so they can sieze control of yet another facet. It's pathetic. Of course govts of any view love another tax because it's double bubble: a) be seen to act b) won't make a blind bit of difference, so more tax

    • Comment number 360.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 359.

      Tax, tax, tax that's all governments want to do. More tax allows more money to be spent on wars and giving away to other countries. What another stupid idea this is! Where is the evidence that this will help reduce obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 358.

      I only drink soft drinks with sugar in but its rare for me to drink them, I refuse all that artificial muck, which in USA comes with cancer warnings
      Once again, we have a potential costly imposition on the majority due to poor behaviour of a minority.

      Such impositions are endemically cowardly,

      foisted on all due to government COWARDLY not targetting specific self abuse obesity demographic

    • rate this

      Comment number 357.

      @315: Watch it, Ron! I logged a comment like that a while ago and it got deleted. Having said that, I can't agree with you more. Put the passenger on the scales with all their gubbins and adjust the fare accordingly. To risk going off-topic, the airlines should be forced to guarantee every passenger their own armrest on each side.

    • rate this

      Comment number 356.

      Put your own house in order first.
      1. There are many overweight doctors
      2. Far too many doctors don't give a fig about their patients. I asked my GP for help to lose weight & he prescribed a pill about which he said "If you eat fat you will **** fat". No nutritional guidance whatsoever.


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