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 815.

      If we had one clearly understood food labelling for all foods people would be able to understand what they are putting in their mouths, sucessive governments have ignored any calls for coherence I'm sure it's been done so the food processors can happily stuff out food full of salts fats an sugars to deliberately hook people into an unhealthy life style. as the old saying goes you r what you eat.

    • rate this

      Comment number 814.

      Our culture ecourages sedentary pastimes and convenience foods; with booze as the escape from stress & tedium. People are merely consumers & the economy is set up to make us spend to achieve an elusive satisfaction. Elusive because it is empty materialism.

      Too many of us are fat, bored, stressed, gloomy and drunk. We need a renewed vision of national life.

    • rate this

      Comment number 813.

      Eat healthily
      Don't drink
      Don't Smoke
      Exercise Regularly
      Die anyway (most likely from boredom)

      I said it before and I'll say it agin. The smoking ban was the thin end of the wedge as it provided the 'We know better than you' brigade with a legal precedent. My money is on fast food being next.

    • rate this

      Comment number 812.

      I'm detecting a whiff of Charlton Heston in this thread "The will take our fizzy drinks from our cold dead hands..." presumably after they amputate them due to diabetes.

    • rate this

      Comment number 811.

      The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents nearly every doctor in the UK in the same way that the RAC represents all motorists.
      It doesn't - it's a bureaucracy led by an unrepresentative few at the top.

      These medics would be better placed making recommendations to simply eat less of a more balanced and mixed diet and keep their noses out of other people's business.

    • rate this

      Comment number 810.

      When i was a kid going out to play did not mean sitting in the garden using a laptop, kids dont play anymore, they sit playing computer games 24/7, lack of exercise and lazy people are more to blame for obesity than fast food or fizzy drinks, its time people addressed the real problems.

    • rate this

      Comment number 809.

      The trouble is, we're not talking about the traditional little "sweet shop" that's the temptation, we're talking supermarket after supermarket after supermarket express that now bustle their way into every village, town and city.

      Shelves full of tempting (mainly unhealthy) food.

      It's called choice at the end of the day though, and it's as much our planners that are at fault for allowing them.

    • rate this

      Comment number 808.

      It is quite simple. The food industry is harming the population. Until the directors of companies are held personally responsible and the harm is a crime that results in imprisonment, the rest is a waste of time and energy. The democratically elected MPs should get a grip on the country instead of letting big business ruin our health and not even pay taxes on the profits of so doing.

    • rate this

      Comment number 807.

      I understand the concern and the desire to do something but this smacks of an obsessive will to impose control over individuals. Taxing high fat and sugar food and drink will only lead to more money being spent on such items by those who can least afford it. It also suggest doctors are failing their patients and trying to shift the blame elsewhere.

    • rate this

      Comment number 806.

      This is entirely misplaced. The prevalence of obesity, diabetes and the rest is more likely due to poisonous materials leached into the environment from plastics, antibiotic use in farming and synthetic oestrogens in our tap water. All of these have significant effects of which obesity and diabetes may be the least worrying.

    • Comment number 805.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 804.

      @ 762.stereotonic

      From the age of 8 I was walking alone, the 30mins it took me to get to school. the area I walked through wasn't always the safest, but I kept my head down walked confidantly and most of all was taught by my parents to be wary of people and to not care if I made alot of noise if someone did approach me in a treating way. You need to educate your kids not molly coddle them.

    • rate this

      Comment number 803.

      It's too late, the lumpen proletariate will continue to eat rubbish served up to them by a capitalist machine that doesn't care about anything except profit.
      As living standards fall further, cheap food proliferates and the cycle goes on.
      I refuse to believe that obese people are happy that way and given the choice would prefer to be a more normal weight.
      As ever, prevention is better than cure.

    • rate this

      Comment number 802.

      The rich establishment don't want the working class to live much beyond retirement but long and healthy enough to keep them working for the rich.

      What ever happened to FREEDOM of CHOICE whatever it is.

    • rate this

      Comment number 801.

      This will lead to inevitable regulation creep and more slippery slope controls over our lives. Next stop, government and GP food rationing in the shops:

      "Food permit, please...

      Ah, Sorry, you don't have an allowance for fat, biscuits, sweets or fizzies, you are allowed only vegetables and soya protein products, they're on that half of the shelf labeled 'Rations for Food Criminals' "

    • rate this

      Comment number 800.

      I eat 3200 calories a day and I'm hench.

      I eat more than 100g of fat per day - mostly olive oil, nuts, avocados etc.

      If at the end of the day I've not achieved my caloric needs and don't fancy eating more, I'll take a swig of maple syrup or something.

      Once you understand calories and your body's needs as well as how much you expend, you can have complete control over your weight.

    • rate this

      Comment number 799.

      Calories in orange juice (330ml) = 155
      Calories in Coca Cola (330ml) = 139

      So why are they thinking of taxing fizzy drinks????

    • rate this

      Comment number 798.

      It's no coincidence that obesity rates have risen since soft drinks replaced sugar with HFCS, I'd pay more for soft drinks that don't use dangerous chemicals in place of sugar

    • rate this

      Comment number 797.

      I love me some Dr Pepper & if not available I'll settle for some Coke or Pepsi or other supermarket Cola. FYI the sugar free options are out of the question. Its my choice. I would like to see this same doctors call for a coffee tax (or is it a healthy drink now?)

    • rate this

      Comment number 796.

      This is another example of a government tackling a symptom of a problem, just like raising drink prices to stop alcoholism, or taxing fags to stop people smoking - it doesn't work.

      The government should use its powers to educate kids from an early age, give fruit away free of change, double/treble PE lessons and make school dinners nutritious (not just the cheap). Healthy kids = healthy adults.


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