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 775.

      My Momma always said "Life is like a box of chocolates" - It doesn't last as long for fat people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 774.

      Lets look at this another way, try bringing back a proper sports program in schools and lets have free gyms and swimming pools and or children would have the proper start to life... Have you thought about a tax on game stations so people would not sit in frount of a tv and go out and do things instead....

    • rate this

      Comment number 773.

      Do what Japan does... make obesity illegal.

      Japan is the healthiest country in the world in terms of life span and health.

    • rate this

      Comment number 772.

      " 734 seront
      All very well if it did not affect others but the rest of us have to pick up the NHS bill for treatment for a variety of illnesses..."

      Those who live longer will still likely need NHS care in their old age, as well as sucking up billions in decades of pension-fueled idleness. Those who choose such an extended existence should have their pension age increased to 100 to pay for it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 771.

      We are a family of 4 adults and eat healthily, however, in the supermarkets all the healthy food, ie. low fat items and sugar free etc...are always more expensive. The government ought to put a ban on supermarkets charging more for the healthier items.

    • rate this

      Comment number 770.

      I think everyone would choose to live healthier lives with balanced diets if it were not for the social pressures we face. Unhappy people binge and that is the root of the problem. People turn to food for comfort in a lonely, harsh world. More time is needed for exercise, shorter working days and easy access to healthy affordable eateries would be a good start.

    • rate this

      Comment number 769.

      OK Concern one - this implies advertising is so effective adverts for sugar must be restricted!
      Concern two - they tax cigarettes but allow their sale even though high cost to NHS, taxing sugar will take us to the same place.

      Ban Sugar - oh wait its a democracy, lets restrict it for your own good!

    • rate this

      Comment number 768.

      I am heartily sick of the food facists from the medical profession. There is no end to their principal that If A is less healthy than B then A must be taxed.
      Tax i pods because they damage your ears
      Tax sports clubs due to increased risk of injuries
      Tax recipe books if they do not meet food facist standards of healthiness
      Tax bicycles because people fall off

    • rate this

      Comment number 767.

      How can we be a burden on the NHS?

      We pay the taxes to run the system, if we live long we will draw more out in treatments if we die young we will draw less out.

      Being ill does not make someone a burden.

      The only people who are a burden are the employees including doctors who are paid more from the NHS budget than they pay in.

    • rate this

      Comment number 766.

      What is "junk food".

      Many of the low value food products are worse for "junkiness" & calories than many takeaways.

      Increased salts & sugars are enevitable as a result for consumer & retailer demands of increasing shelf life of foods.

      Decrease in sugars/salts = decrease in useable product life & increase in food prices.

      Junk food is quickly eaten food & doesnt need long useable life

    • rate this

      Comment number 765.

      Maybe a better idea would be mandatory food classes for new parents. Mandatory! Irregardless of class or background. Ppl are too busy buying low fat and low/no sugar but buying processed food! Don't eat meat every day. Ditch the low fat /sugar unless it is a medical need. They clearly have had a negative impact. They are more prevalent than ever and so is obesity. Weird huh!

    • rate this

      Comment number 764.


      Im surprised that the green party doesnt want a tax on fizzy drinks because of the CO² it produces.

      But whats next a tax break on a little thing called "self control""

      Could have a wind break for lack of self control

    • rate this

      Comment number 763.

      Again the majority would be hit by a very wide net. I enjoy the occassional burger and I drink fizzy (diet) coke every day but I'm not fat - but that's because I exercise regularly.

    • rate this

      Comment number 762.

      @720 Little_Old_Me

      I wouldn't let my 10 year old son walk to school. Before xmas we had 3 txts from the school asking that our kid's don't walk alone as there had been abduction attempts, so my only alternative is to drive him to school on my way to work at 7.15am where he goes to breakfast club. . . . .You shouldn't just assume people can't be bothered or are lazy. . .I'd rather my child is safe

    • rate this

      Comment number 761.

      Penal levels of taxation on specific food items demonised by certain pressure groups is counter-productive and counter-intuitive. There are no "bad foods" as such - only bad diets and the answer to that is education not taxation.

    • rate this

      Comment number 760.

      If you believe the latest statistics, they show that 26% of the population are obese. That means that 74% of the population are not.

      Why should the large majority of the population be forced to pay higher tax on the soft drink of there choice, just because a minority are obese.
      Obese people have a lifestyle choice. It is them alone who should pay for the extra health services they may require.

    • rate this

      Comment number 759.

      Why should I suffer a higher tax because other people are unable to be responsible in consuming poor food & drink choices? And is there any evidence that it works? There is a huge tax on smoking, and yet people give up for health reasons, not because it is expensive.

    • rate this

      Comment number 758.

      "716. billbi
      Live how you want.
      Accept the consequences.
      Don't expect others to help with those consequences as a divine right.

      Why should we worry."

      Because as the numbers with heart disease/diabetes/etc.... grows we will either have to increase taxation to fund their NHS care or start restricting who gets free treatment. The NHS isn't coping now!

    • rate this

      Comment number 757.

      It is not suprising that the rise in obesity goes hand in hand with the tighter living conditions for the less well off. Healthy food should always be the cheaper option which encourages people to cook proper meals. Life generally dictates that you pay more for convenience however the food industry is opposite to this.

    • rate this

      Comment number 756.

      Fizzy drinks give you moobs.

      Perhaps a fizzy drinks tax could then be used to fund man-bras.


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