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 795.

      Everyone is living on a budget and when a bag of 6 doughnuts is half the price of 6 apples it is far too easy to buy wrong. Education is the most important factor, knowing that doughnuts are worse for you in the first place is a starting point. The next step would be to start producing more of our own fruits so that they are not more expensive than doughnuts.

    • rate this

      Comment number 794.

      They could start by getting the fast food chains out of the UK's hospitals, then...

    • rate this

      Comment number 793.

      It has been proved many times in the past that by banning or warning people about so called dangers only glorifies them and makes them more appealing!
      When are these 'so called experts' going to learn?

    • rate this

      Comment number 792.

      Communitarian social control for a common purpose.

    • rate this

      Comment number 791.

      In my opinion the cost of living in this country is the problem.

      Both parents are increasingly working 14 hour days to support their families.

      I'm healthy individual who insists on eating home cooked whole foods but this often means I don't eat until 10,00pm. Something has to give....for me its sleep for others its food.

      Educate all you like but unfortunatetly "Life" gets in the way

    • rate this

      Comment number 790.

      Supermarkets should have cut outs at the end of each aisle similar to the 'bring on the wall' type human shapes. than you have to be able to fit through in order to reach the cakes/fizzy drinks section. No fit - no fat. :-)

    • rate this

      Comment number 789.

      @773 Idra

      Obesity illegal in Japan.
      You are joking right?
      Their national heroes are Sumo Wrestlers.
      The most obese sportsmen in the world.

    • rate this

      Comment number 788.

      As someone has already mentioned, sugar is the culprit here so no idea why they are trying to adopt a blunderbuss approach with the tax.

      I have a better idea, instead of making junk food more expensive, make healthy food cheaper. Surely if money is to be levied, rather than taking it from the consumer, take if from the companies that are selling junk food and use the money to subsidise veg.

    • rate this

      Comment number 787.

      The government don't care about obesity, it is another way to raise taxes on regularly consumed items. They are happy for the poorer people to be fed cheap rubbish because it keeps them 'happy' while they raise taxes. The fact that they allow banks to create the majority of our money through debt is the reason we are in this mess and it is us who is being punished for it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 786.

      Freewill is a fantastic thing, but when people expect the state to pick up the rising cost of healthcare it starts to become a dangerous thing. If the people cannot see the damage they are doing to themselves and the costs they are incurring then the source should be taxed. Not just fizzy drinks and fast food, but all processed foods. Eating less and moving more is the secret to a healthy life.

    • rate this

      Comment number 785.

      Education not legislation. Allow people to make their own decisions rather than try to remove responsibility from people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 784.

      The main reason for obesity is lack of care towards oneself. This manifests itself in the form of laziness and unwillingness to educate oneself in what is good for you and what isn't.

      Food manufacturers play their part by making junk taste yummy.

      Food enhancers, taste stimulants and sweeteners are often added.

      Sprinkle in a few adverts and you have a recipe for obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 783.

      #736 update. The issue: as I understand it *anything* that gives our bodies more energy than we burn will turn into fat. Even if we avoid 'bad' fatty foods and sugary drinks, our bodies can (under the right circumstances) still turn what we consume - even salad - into bad fat. We still end up over-fatted. *This being so*, why should we avoid 'bad' foods if 'good' foods can do the same thing?

    • rate this

      Comment number 782.

      Well done doctors

      Its about time some well educated wise people advised the public and govt on how to change laws rules and regulations, with the sole aim of helping the public intead of bankers, global companies and horsetraders whose sole interest is making money for themselves.

    • rate this

      Comment number 781.

      Focussing on one small part of people's diets seems crazy! If they plan on using tax to address this issue then they need to tax fizzy drinks, chocolate, fast food etc. and use that tax to make fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and lean meat cheaper and to subsidise gym memberships... not just to line politicians pockets!

    • rate this

      Comment number 780.

      Why choose 1 food group and tax it? Surely being obese is a complete lifestyle and diet pattern, not just down to one dietary intake. If you're going to tax sugary drinks saying its about obesity then you also should tax crisps, chips, burgers, KFC, buns, cakes etc accordingly.

    • rate this

      Comment number 779.

      If you're fat and would rather stuff unnecessary amounts of food in your face than get healthy, then go ahead. It's not my problem so don't expect me to pay more tax to subsidise your gluttony.

      Obesity is a matter for individual common sense not for government legislation. I suppose, we are expected not to realise that we're being softened up for new taxes.

    • rate this

      Comment number 778.

      Tax all sugary food because sugar is the new tobacco. Watching obese people buying Energy drinks which should be used after hard work or exercise is wrong. Add bread,donuts,pizza and you suddenly have a lethal mix of complex fat storage.
      TAX sugar and use the money to improve nutrition education - don't give it to the NHS until they prove trustworthy with money and lives.

    • rate this

      Comment number 777.

      putting higher taxes on cigarettes did not stop people smoking so I don't expect a higher tax on fizzy drinks will stop people drinking them. People should only have these drinks as a treat -if you are really thirsty drink water - Parents can control what their children eat or drink and should do so!

    • rate this

      Comment number 776.

      As well as targeting the producers of liquid sugar, the medical professions should be taking aim at the thoughtless, irresponsible, stupid parents who permit their offspring to become obese. This is child abuse, no more nor less. These parents are guilty parties and should be treated as such.


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