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 915.

      A red herring argument from the AMRC. Addressing diet will do little to tackle the issue of obesity. Obesity is largely the product of a sedentiary lifestyle. This is an issue which can't be addressed through taxation, only through education - and this shouldn't be forced on people. If a person is unhappy being obese then take action, but if they are happy then what is the problem?

    • rate this

      Comment number 914.

      @Michael Mason I suspect you should look a bit into nutrition, and the false economy that is low fat, so called good for you, products. It's 0% fat, it must be good. What do you mean it has 50g of sugar in it?! Either way, that diet isn't healthy and is a fad.

    • rate this

      Comment number 913.

      Last year VAT was added to sports nutrition, so people going to the gym regularly taking healthy supplements to help boost their gains were penalised,
      Why should we not increase the tax on these drinks that have no nutritional benefit.

    • rate this

      Comment number 912.

      Well, people have to die of something, preferably before they get old and end up in a nursing home
      Seriously though, there is a human time bomb ticking away with an ever increasing elderly population being kept alive (thanks to the miracle of modern medicine) who end up wishing to die.

    • rate this

      Comment number 911.

      It's all very well for us to decide how we want to live our lives and indeed being happy is really critical else what's the point? However we have to think of the impact on the rest of society even when it is indirect such as costs of health care. One way or another we have to pay for the life that we wish to lead. Continue with education on the benefits of being healthy. Extra tax is daft.

    • rate this

      Comment number 910.

      Why not start putting Heath warnings on Currency?

      Or Stamps.

    • rate this

      Comment number 909.

      I have a pretty bad reaction to aspartame so I can't take foods or drinks containing it. Most of the people I know who are overweight/obese drink diet / sugar free drinks.

    • rate this

      Comment number 908.

      I think an obesity tax is an excellent idea.

      Lets start with the sitting MPs - lets Tax their fat heads and fatter wallets.

    • rate this

      Comment number 907.

      is this a tax issue to finance the NHS or a health issue?
      I think it's time the state stop telling people what to do"

      That would be reasonable but for the fact that people who then suffer consequences from their bad decisions then expect society, via the state, to fix them up often at high expense.

    • rate this

      Comment number 906.

      What this is advocating is an individual tax on every item that will potentially impact on the nhs burden ..drinking fizzy drinks does not make you obese , it might if you choose not to exercise for risk of injury( and its subsequent A&E admission).

    • rate this

      Comment number 905.

      It is very easy to say that education is the solution. "Live and enjoy" is another opionion. But, think about the devastation that something like diabetes brings to an individual's life. Also, in the UK, we the taxpayer are going to have to pay for the treatment of individuals who get these chronic illnesses. Open your eyes....

    • rate this

      Comment number 904.

      Just another tax to prop up a failing system. I drink substantial amounts of sweet tea and yet weigh only 72Kg; it is the lifestyle, stupid - not just fizzy drinks that is the problem - for goodness sake get a grip!

    • rate this

      Comment number 903.

      Why is the answer for every issue to be settled in this county, to tax, tax and tax some more? The average family in the UK is already one of the most heavily taxed groups on the planet. Surely there must be other answers to problems such as these besides the nanny state punishing us by constantly eroding our standard of living.

    • rate this

      Comment number 902.

      In my local pub it's already cheaper to drink beer than to drink Coke.

    • rate this

      Comment number 901.


      How about no special subsidies or taxes to or on any food/drink producers?
      Why not stop taking money from 1 group to give to another?
      Let us choose & be responsible for our choices?

      Why don't you decry subsidising bad choices by taxing those of us who choose not to go excessive on fizzy drinks, to pay for the healthcare of those that choose to drink too much fizz?

    • rate this

      Comment number 900.

      NO they dont I love Coca Cola probably drink too much though I was always thin and I look you for my age, however I did constantly play football. Computer games, internet, online shopping and social media have caused more obesity nobody has to leave home anymore,

    • rate this

      Comment number 899.

      I have had an addiction to fizzy drinks for as long as I can remember. I drink around 2-6 liters a day.
      If I take an average of 4 liters per day that means I go over the RDA for sugar by 362%.
      I have been this way for around 9 years meaning to cancel that out "carbon footprint style", I'd need to avoid sugar for 32.58 years from today.
      In a diabetic epidemic nation - why are they even legal?

    • rate this

      Comment number 898.

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

      Find the daily calories your body needs to maintain its current weight. Then drop that total by 200 a day.

      Or keep the same caloric intake, but exercise daily until you burn that 200 calories.

      For example, if your daily caloric intake is 2500, you could still lose weight by drinking 2,300 calories of cola and nothing else.

    • rate this

      Comment number 897.

      is this a tax issue to finance the NHS or a health issue?
      I think it's time the state stop telling people what to do,,, it's a free society and we would like to keep it this way. thank you very much.

    • rate this

      Comment number 896.


      BOGOF , does NOT mean that you HAVE to eat both items purchased at once , instead for we mere ordinary mortals , it actually means the chance to make a much needed saving on products we buy , some of which we store for use on another day . People are less and less able to actually afford everyday items thanks to incompetent/corrupt government and businesses , so don't raise prices !


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