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 875.

      I'm really sick of hearing about food/drink taxes. Most people at whom it is targeted will find the extra money needed to fuel their habit, while those of us who enjoy 'unhealthy' food and drink in moderation (thanks to self-control) will have to pay more. It's highly unfair. It would also be nice if all doctors practiced what they preached — I've lost count of the number of NHS staff smokers.

    • rate this

      Comment number 874.

      Go down the gym, it's that simple

    • rate this

      Comment number 873.

      @ 832.Trunksforyou

      It is possible to eat healthily on a budget. Some fruit and veg are very cheap and unprocessed meat can be bought cheaply if you pick the right cuts etc. All that is needed is a bit of effort to put a meal together instead of just chucking some ready prepared stuff in the oven.

      And as for fizzy drinks being cheaper than other drinks....we all have water in our taps.

    • rate this

      Comment number 872.

      Why are they ignoring the fact that calorie intake is falling

      Quote "average energy intake is 28% lower in 2010 than 1974" p60

      this report is correct we are still getting more calories than we need, but we need to use more, not eat less. But encouraging exercise costs, taxes raise money.

    • rate this

      Comment number 871.

      Over Eating is the huge problem.

      Buy 1 get 1 free, main meals as snacks ... out culture is about eating MORE than we need and the supermarket marketing over the last 50 years has been intentionally geared to generate that culture.

      Retail has pushed down the prices so they can sell us more and create an environment where we want more.

      And now we eat far too much

    • rate this

      Comment number 870.

      Part of the problem with articles like this is that the BMI index is defective.

      The "let's make you feel guilty" tone of the BMI calculator provided is also misleading. Telling me that my BMI is higher than people in other countries simply masks the fact that a lot of people in other countries are seriously underweight because of food shortages.

    • rate this

      Comment number 869.

      I'm starting to get a bit of a podge and this is probably down to me snacking and consuming an oh so delicious cadburys cream egg every day until easter.

      Only person I can blame for this is myself. I CHOOSE to buy the unhealthy option and I CHOOSE to then eat it. I'm not going to blame society, doctors, the food industry or even the tories. It's MY FAULT and if you're fat it's YOUR FAULT

    • rate this

      Comment number 868.

      There were no fat people when everyone had a job and smoked

    • rate this

      Comment number 867.

      Tax: the modern panacea for everything.

      Define 'junk food'. It is just about anything if eaten exclusively. Does it all go behind curtains, as cigarettes have done?

      A lot of TV cooks will be out of business, mind, that would not be a bad thing, a lot of their food is high in salt, sugar and fat. Goodbye Great British Bake Off.

      The solution is not as simply as the doctors make it sound.

    • rate this

      Comment number 866.

      Another day, another powerful union trying to infringe our civil liberties. Unions with special privileges should be viewed suspiciously.

      Today it's The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, trying to make the us pay more for a coke. This is absurd. Does anyone remember when the doctors called for a ban on knives?

      They're pathetic.

    • rate this

      Comment number 865.

      When was it everyone thought they had a right to tell people what they can and cannot eat based upon whether or not they have a stake in the taxation system? It's the new religion, I suppose and since there's no criticism of doing actual immoral things anymore in our new church we have to content ourselves with criticising smoking, drinking and letting your dog foul the footpath, now!

    • rate this

      Comment number 864.

      Newsflash; doctors have discovered that 100% of victims of diabetes, heat attacks and cancer had all been breathing large quantities of AIR and have recommended that Government looks at an immediate tax and more money for doctors salaries- erm, investment in the NHS...

    • rate this

      Comment number 863.

      This is really taking things too far, more tax doesn't solve the problem (although it's a good way to raise tax and pretent to be doing it for good reasons). Is it really fair, for example, if I go to visit someone in hospital that I'm not allowed to buy a bag of crisps!!

      What about better food labelling, big Red, Amber or Green cross on all foods (good, okay or bad).

    • rate this

      Comment number 862.

      I have no problem in taxing the companies who pour fat and muck into fast food. But what will happen to the revenue raised? I wouldnt trust Cameron/Clegg/Milliband/balls/Gideon with the extra cash raised. Lets face it they spend our money on silly schemes and their pet projects (which fail).

    • rate this

      Comment number 861.

      @842 "The problem is FAT not sugar."

      Your individual experience in the absence of experimental controls does not count as publishable science. "Weight" of evidence suggests your are mistaken.

      Congratulations on your weight loss.

    • rate this

      Comment number 860.

      Rather than raising taxes even on people who don't have the problem, it would be far more effective and fair to calculate airline (and other transportation) tickets based on weight.

    • rate this

      Comment number 859.

      Real coke is actually far healthier than the diet coke variants - containing only sugar, water, caffeine, caramel flavouring. If you drink it like a fish it will get you fat. The solution is not drinking it like a fish, NOT taxing it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 858.

      It is all well and good for a doctor to say obesity is a problem, but putting up the price of junk food is not really the answer, making healthy food cheaper is.

      Just go to your local supermarket, and see which is the cheaper option when it comes to your shopping, food which is healthy, or food which is classed as junk.

      Lower the price on healthier food, people will buy it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 857.

      does putting up the price stop alcoholics drinking........or smokers smoking...............?

    • rate this

      Comment number 856.

      Listen , we don't ALL get the exorbitant salaries and perks that doctors get , so I REALLY wish they would STOP recommending taking even more money from us "ordinary people" , whose little pleasures in life are the few they can actually afford ... we can't ALL afford to drink Champaign instead of our ordinary fizzy drinks , like doctors can !


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