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 935.

      "Freewill is a fantastic thing, but when people expect the state to pick up the rising cost of healthcare"

      People dieing earlier isn't a raised cost for obvious reasons. The whole government enforced health fashion is just an excuse for revenue collection and a way for petty tyrants to get their way

    • rate this

      Comment number 934.

      Why not issue tax breaks for people who go to the gym instead? Wait, my bad this is about raising tax revenue not cutting it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 933.

      Its high time the 'doctors' paid more attention to 'science' and took a step back from the incessant blaming of Saturated Fat

      doctors don't usually blame saturated fat for obesity they blame it for heart disease though they often talk of "unhealthy eating" as a whole.
      Its supermarkets who blame Fat for obesity so they can sell "Low Fat" but high calorie foods to people as diet foods

    • Comment number 932.

      All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

    • rate this

      Comment number 931.

      Why didn't they just suggest that people switch to the diet/lite versions of these drinks instead?
      There aren't any health benefits in those either but at least one wouldn't be consuming empty calories and it would still feel like having a proper fizzy drink. Expecting people to stop altogether is a bit unrealistic.

    • rate this

      Comment number 930.

      I am life-long tee totaller. On Saturday night I visited my local pub and had a pint of fizzy drink. It cost more than a pint of beer that is already heavily taxed. And now they want to tax it more!

      It is enough to send a man to start drinking alchohol.

    • rate this

      Comment number 929.

      Oh great - another tax; that's just what we need!
      How stupid can government be?

    • rate this

      Comment number 928.

      A lot of it is down to education. Cheap food and bad habits are more common in people who don't have much money. They often lack much respect for themselves. No self-esteem. How do you legislate against that? It's back to my first point - educate in schools what is going to give you a longer and healthier life.Walk into any McDonalds and look who is buying. When did you last see salad on the menu?

    • rate this

      Comment number 927.

      Almost all obesity today is caused by trans fats.

      Ban them.

      Ban diabetes.

    • rate this

      Comment number 926.

      Could be the governent testing the water for dcreasing vat free items. If you want to fight the flab you would be more worried about games machines and the school run.

    • rate this

      Comment number 925.

      The perception is coke = bad, Tropicana = good, but this is too simplistic. The latter has launched a version with 50% less calories, which is still far more than diet fizzy drinks.

      Putting after the watershed might make more attractive giving such foods a "grown up" appearance. We need to educate people not tax them.

    • rate this

      Comment number 924.

      We get taxed enough as it is and adding another few pence onto a burger or curry. The problem lies with life style. Before the age of computer kids went out to play and burned fat off. make it compulsory for every kid from school age to take up 3 competitive sports. Maybe if we could get these big chains to pay there corporation tax that would help to fund it

    • rate this

      Comment number 923.

      Not more of the sam old same old; attack the problem rather than address the cause. The majority of people it seems living in the UK can no longer cook proper food. They prefer junk to proper food and the basic reason of the problem is laziness. Cure the laziness in the country along with improving proper domestic economics and removing self interest habits and you have the problem cured!

    • rate this

      Comment number 922.

      The root cause of obesity is a sedentary lifestyle. Make physical sport/dietary health education compulsory in schools and invest more money in the construction industry.
      This government is driving people into unhealthy lifestyles by their punitive policies.

    • rate this

      Comment number 921.

      The market economy works if people have the information to make reational decisions. The food industrie's aim is to make the information fuzzy so rational decisions can't be made
      Sugar/Salt in processed foods kill, do all the people who eat them understand this if so let the market rip. If not,as I suspect, then labelling,increased pricing and Govt information is needed to counter advertising

    • rate this

      Comment number 920.

      Hmmm can anyone else see where all this banning will eventually lead.

      Bread and water, and locked up in your homes (with internal CCTV to make sure your not doing anything naughty or anti-PC of course, except to go to work (walking mind), and having an hours compulsory exercise 3 times a week,with added recording and tracking devices monitoring everything you say and do.

    • rate this

      Comment number 919.

      Poorer people have poorer diets. Obviously more taxes will help this situation.

    • rate this

      Comment number 918.

      cheap rubbish food is just that, cheap and it offers a quick fix solution for most of the people inclined to purchase such junk. on the other hand decent healthy alternatives are like twice or more, in the current climate of people watching every penny they go for the cheap fix solution...

    • rate this

      Comment number 917.

      What with the supermarkets' bogofs and many of us doing sedentary jobs, we would benefit from more - voluntary - exercise.

      However, it costs £16 for a family to play badminton for an hour at our leisure centre and £1000 for golf clubs fees. Only Doctors, politicians and the the higher paid can afford much of that.

    • rate this

      Comment number 916.

      895 SpoonMan

      I would be very careful about making any carbonated drink a default, diet version or otherwise.

      There tends to be high levels of phosphorous in any carbonated drinks which causes calcium to be excreted from the body potentially causing osteoporosis.

      They aren't doing your teeth and gums any favours either.

      And as for the potential side effects of artificial sweeteners...


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