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 695.

      I'd like to see calorie counting taught at school. It's all well and good having labels on foods saying how many calories are in a product, but unless you have a good understanding of your body's requirements then it's all a bit too abstract for most people. Get kids to monitor what they eat over a four week period and count the calories and teach them how to control themselves.

    • rate this

      Comment number 694.

      Why is the "solution" to everything to apply more tax? Tax tax tax, honestly has no-one got any different ideas?

      As with alcohol abuse, we need to tackle the attitudes behind the problem and not just apply a "tax it and hope it goes away" attitude.

    • rate this

      Comment number 693.

      What is this governments obsession with taxing everything. There is no proof whatsoever that taxing something will reduce their use as people will just cut down on something else to compensate. As far as the watershed is concerned it will achieve nothing as kids know what fast food is and where to get it regardless of advertising. Educate not regulate.

    • rate this

      Comment number 692.

      After what I had to pay for my half of beer and his pint of lemonade and lime (he was driving) yesterday I thought they were bloody taxed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 691.

      @644 Ash.
      "This just dismays me, the fat acceptance in this country is ridiculous."

      Please don't fall for all this rubbish. If Dr's can convince you there's a problem to fix they get money for it. Using BMI instead of body fat percentage puts swathes of people into the obese category who are not obese. Have quick look next time you're on a busy train, how many people are truly obese?

    • rate this

      Comment number 690.

      With the Francis Report into the Mid Staffs' hospital detailing appalling neglect and abuse of hospital patients, high death rates, patients dying of thirst and forced to drink from flower vases, what is the main concern of our doctors? Taxing fizzy drinks... Heads in the sand? Little wonder the NHS is in crisis and beset by one scandal after another.

    • rate this

      Comment number 689.

      Tax the poor to the hilt as the rich obese can afford medical care. Where will it all end? First it was Cigarettes then it was Alcohol and now its Fizzy drinks. Why stop there? What about chocolate bars as well. What it needs is education and more physical education in schools. We have now become a nanny state country of Lions led by Donkeys. God help us all.

    • rate this

      Comment number 688.

      Banning advertising is an excellent idea - we shouldn't be tempting our kids.
      Fast food places should NEVER be sited near schools either.

    • rate this

      Comment number 687.

      Just an idea but I can see an opportunity for a "healthier" supermarket. All items would adhere to some sort standard, not a health food shop, but it would contain a full range of all the usual products but limited to those that meet their declared standards.
      It would have to be run by a brand new company because existing supermarkets could not run both good & bad supermarkets..
      Watch this space

    • rate this

      Comment number 686.

      duno about taxing but getting rid of a few MPS and slashing there wages, expensies and penstions would save us a bomb! they are after all PUBLIC SERVANTS and as such WE the TAX PAYERS have a right to say what they earn NOT THEM!

    • rate this

      Comment number 685.

      Dosen't everyone know that sugar is bad for you?

    • rate this

      Comment number 684.

      The medical profession interferes too much. Like the church with our spirituality it wants TOTAL responsibility for our health. Leave people alone. Warn them yes, but let them make their own minds. If they want to get fat and die young, let them. But make them or charities pay for any specialist care like knocking down walls to get them out of their homes and to hospital, reinforced ambulances &c

    • rate this

      Comment number 683.

      Perhaps if the NHS was fixed after years of abuse we wouldn't keep being told what to do/eat/say/think and be blackmailed into believing the NHS can't cope. Deal with the waste in the NHS so that funds can be used to TREAT people not pay bean counters.

    • rate this

      Comment number 682.

      Amazing how many people think that they have to pay over the odds for the health care of those who choose to enjoy life. They conveniently ignore the fact that we have to fill their pension pots, so they can continue to endure in their sheltered little existences, until we have to pay far more to provide their 24hr bottom-cleaning, drool-wiping senility care.

    • rate this

      Comment number 681.

      Well they haven't taxed sleeping and breathing yet, but give it time.

    • rate this

      Comment number 680.

      You can't out exercise a bad diet - try running for ten minutes on a treadmill and then seeing how many estimated calories you have burned.

      Then look at the calories in the chocolate bar you feel you have deserved.

      It's not what people eat, but when they eat it and in what quantity. Educating is as important as incentivising.

      Tax the healthcare required for the obese - it'll generate more!

    • rate this

      Comment number 679.

      This is just stupid - what if you drink numerous cups of tea or coffee a day with several spoons of sugar in them. Taxing fizzy drink is not the answer - just an excuse to get more money out of us and they would soon add tax to other items if they got away with it. Anyway even those who live on lettuce and fruit die at the end of the day. Everything in moderation.

    • rate this

      Comment number 678.

      Ban them

    • rate this

      Comment number 677.

      I am fine with people living how they want to live. What I am not fine with is the assumption that the state will fund their life style - surgery, gastric bands etc. This should be their cost since it comes with their lifestyle. Watched an obese woman walking around Bracknell last week with a pram, can of Red Bull, a fag and a mobile. She took it in turns as to what was up against her mouth! Sad.

    • rate this

      Comment number 676.

      Why don't the government take all my income / wages and give me back the things it thinks I should have?

      Of course this should not apply to those on £150,000 a year or MPs or MEPs or millionaires or anyone from the aristocracy.


    Page 53 of 87


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