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 855.

      “…Why are processed meals cheaper than buying whole quality foods?”

      Economies of scale. Take all the ingredients to one place. Use large scale efficient processors and ovens instead of wasteful domestic cookers. Recycle the waste in one place. Transport just the food, in relatively lightweight packaging, instead of hauling waste about.

      Probably not the answer you wanted.

    • rate this

      Comment number 854.

      The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges are proposing serious recommendations to resolve a serious problem. Obesity is a leading cause of heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and even certain types of cancer. We must start acting on this national crisis to avoid the wave of health complications the next generation will bring, and save considerable amount of money for the NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 853.

      Krispy Kreme doughnuts opened up in Edinburgh a few days ago and people waiting in queues for hours and causing traffic chaos.

      Taxing fizzy drink is not the answer to obesity,

    • rate this

      Comment number 852.

      Once again its only those with very limited disposable incomes that will be put off by a tax hike.
      Do we just assume that those with very high levels of disposable income don't become obese? If so the problem is easily solved - stop poverty and also solve the problem of binge drinking as obviously the better off don't do that either
      Or is it that Doctors and campaigners don't care about the rich

    • rate this

      Comment number 851.

      " In the past 6 weeks I have avoided meat, dairy, eggs and all oil products. I've eaten until I'm full with lots of carbs .. I've lost 21 lbs and feel amazing!"

      I've lost 5kg in 3 weeks by avoiding carbs.

    • rate this

      Comment number 850. come its not ok to hurt overweight peoples feelings but its ok to take their money?

    • rate this

      Comment number 849.

      By all means regulate food advertising, esp for harmful foods. But as the horsemeat scandal reveals, lack of enforcement&poor oversight (not to mention dishonesty) trump laws.Don't just blame consumer.Do thorough & sensible endocrine screens on all, esp kids.Thyroid tests are cheap to do!Address environmental pollution, too, endocrine disruptors, Monsanto's cornSyrup,Cargill's process.FightStress!

    • rate this

      Comment number 848.

      I am not fat and never have been i drink alcohol moderately at home can any one explain why I get sucked into the fat and binge drinking tax argument

    • rate this

      Comment number 847.

      "everybody we met wanted help from the state and society" - that's the problem right there, why do people assume help is owed to them if they allow themselves to become obese? Sure, ban advertising of certain foods, tax them all you want, ultimately there is no substitute for awareness and willingness to eat healthily and exercise regularly, and that has to come from within

    • rate this

      Comment number 846.

      The usual big stick approach! Who the hell are you to tell me what to do? 19 Stone 7 lbs and six foot tall I will eat and drink what I want. Remeber if you reduce the risk of dying from say diabetes then you must increase the risk of dying from say cancer. By the way, in reply to 128 JGG1974 prcessed foods are not cheaper than fresh foods prepared in the home, they are just for the lazy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 845.

      I am in my forties and I and everyone else I know in my age group are not or never have been obese. I grew up drinking fizzy pop, eating sweets and crisps, Friday chippy tea treat etc. The issue is not the sale of these things but the inactivity due to todays video gaming lifestyle and the greed that consumerist society has inflicted upon us. Get a football, get outside, get a life !!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 844.

      Give me a break! No, I don't mean a Kit Kat, although that would be nice. The only people this would effect are people on the poverty line. The rich people coming up with these ideas will be able to afford it. This is just another example of making it even harder for the less well off to have something they like. I drink fizzy drinks, but get a lot of exercise. Result? I am not obese

    • rate this

      Comment number 843.

      @804 WeirdAlex

      Sorry, but when I've been told by the school not to let my son walk the 2 miles to school as there have been abduction attempts, I won't! There is NO WAY i would risk my sons life and you are ridiculous to suggest he's being mollycoddled. If i listened to the likes of you and something happened to MY son, how would YOU feel? Nothing, but then he's not your son is he

    • rate this

      Comment number 842.

      The problem is FAT not sugar. In the past 6 weeks I have avoided meat, dairy, eggs and all oil products. I've eaten until I'm full with lots of carbs such as porridge oats, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and pasta along with some fruits and vegetables. I still eat sugar on porridge, in drinks and in fruit. Without any increase in exercise (I'm a lazy student) I've lost 21 lbs and feel amazing!

    • rate this

      Comment number 841.

      Here we go again-put the blame on the messenger- When is this nanny state going to see the light-
      The blame is on the user- The parents- We have degenerated into a country that reminds me of Orwells 1984.
      You must do this or not- Instead of putting "Rats" to eat your face (From 1984)
      We will tax you as a punishment!

    • rate this

      Comment number 840.

      Everything is bad for you. It's just moderation. But to be fair, if people want to eat and drink this kind of thing, let them. Yes i know that obese people cost money for the NHS but dont old people do the same? All our doctors want us to live forever which is great but to be fair I'd rather live a little than be some dodgery old fella who needs someone to take him to the toilet and the like

    • rate this

      Comment number 839.

      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.


      The 60's called, wants its flower power back.

    • rate this

      Comment number 838.

      Excessive sugar consumption is bad for your health, I though everybody was aware of this?
      Perhaps a simple health warning on high sugar products would do the trick, then you have no excuse...

    • rate this

      Comment number 837.

      Rather than just thinking about how they can tax more, maybe the government should be thinking about how it can spend to improve. On this occasion maybe a subsidy on 'healthy' foods might be more effective. Fresh produce in the UK is so much more expensive that other countries and processed foods are so much cheaper than in other countries!! Probably to due economics but subsidies could improve it

    • rate this

      Comment number 836.

      Such a banal approach to just slap a tax on soft drinks and the advertising ban wouldn't achieve anything either. Why not introduce legislation to reduce the amount of sugar and and implement a total ban on the brain deteriorating aspartme in ALL foods.

      Or better still, why can't people just do what I do; drink water except for when you are drinking beer :)


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