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 575.

      Let those who want to live fast/fat and die young do so if it makes them happy. My philosophy on life is to enjoy it. If dieting and living 110 years doesn't make a person happy then they should be free to choose otherwise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 574.

      Comfort eating due to stress

    • rate this

      Comment number 573.

      So paying more tax will make us slim and fit? You sound about as good as my Dr. Taxing people dont make them fit.........Fact

    • rate this

      Comment number 572.

      Has anyone questioned what is the end result we are looking for here?

      Is it less overweight people? Why?
      More money in the Healthcare system. That would be good but how is that going to happen when there are so many of us, there's a finite level of resources available.
      We all live longer. Is that a good thing?

      I don't know what all of this is actually about.

    • rate this

      Comment number 571.

      Tax doctors' groups - it may make them less liable to spout rubbish!

    • rate this

      Comment number 570.

      What percentage of horse do you find in fizzy drinks? If it's below 1%, the government will be ok with that.`

    • rate this

      Comment number 569.

      It is sad that it has come so far that these propositions are being made.

      I am against overregulation by the government but it is obvious that a large group cannot take care of themselves. It is shame that others need to take the burden of these overweight people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 568.

      Great, another tax increase of 20% on sugary drinks but no recommendation of a tax decrease on Non Sugary Drinks. What next?

    • rate this

      Comment number 567.

      we pay to much tax on every thing we want i agree that its becoming a bit of a problem and that the people in government are worried about the pressure on the nhs in the future but taxing every thing is not the answer it will not stop people from buying what they want .

    • rate this

      Comment number 566.

      Agree with David's points but clearly a lot of people aren't aware of the risks and may not 'choose' to live fat die young because they don't understand why they are fat in the first place

      Educating people to make healthy choices will help so will taxation but only if it is high enough to make people choose a healthy alternative

      Water is free and has sustained humanity for several million years.

    • Comment number 565.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 564.

      If the Government want to raise more money, that answer is with the tens of bi££ions lost through tax avoidance.

      Only in the last few days have they paid lip-service to tax avoidance but we are yet to see any action and their results yet demand compensation for 'slave labour' and the loop-hole is closed by the end of that same day.


    • rate this

      Comment number 563.

      Less carbs, more fruit and veg.

      Stop teaching that carbs are the base of the food pyramid. Fruit and veg at the base. Whole grains, lean protein, and nuts next, then dairy and eggs, THEN other carbs, 'fat' proteins, fats, and sugar.

      Dump the School dinner pattern of 'chips with everything', serve only wholegrain carbs like brown rice or bulgar wheat, and bulk out with lots more veg.

    • rate this

      Comment number 562.

      The NHS does not know what is actually causing obesity which is why it is conducting medical research based around data collected by weighing children at school. Again - they don't know why exactly - poor, afluent, rural, urban - there isn't a pattern for obesity. Given the age of children and the length of time medical research takes there is no cure/explanation anytime soon.

    • rate this

      Comment number 561.

      We don't need a tax on fizzy drinks people need to be educated into not drinking them all the time. Teach kids from an early age that moderation is what helps and stop taxing those that are sensible, can I have a discount card for when I occasionally buy a bottle of fizzy pop?

    • rate this

      Comment number 560.

      people mention lifestyles this is true, it costs a futune now to go anywhere by bus or car these days if your in the middle of no where like me plus if you fancy swimming that can cost fortune for families cant ride a push bike anywhere without being a target for cars its fustrating I make an effort by take the kids to the parks&stuff,but why should people be penalised cos some cant stop eating?

    • rate this

      Comment number 559.

      The amount of calories on the front of a product in BIG CLEAR PRINT...what a good idea.
      Fancy running for parliment and becomming the Minister of Health!!!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 558.

      why is the answer to anything 'bad' to tax it more? if they that bad, ban them.

      instead of taxing 'bad' things, make people who abuse them pay for help instead. If you require constant medical attention because of your lifestyle, dont expect in on NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 557.

      Why did it take them so long to come up with the watershed idea? People mentioned that on here years ago. It makes absolute sense.

    • rate this

      Comment number 556.

      the level of anxiety and anger caused by this proposal is revealing. The idea of a more expensive soda drives 'em wild - probably lost a bit of weight with all that stress - well done docs!


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