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 955.

      Just bought an oven, but it's so small I can't cook my dinner in it so I for one won't be getting fat today.

    • rate this

      Comment number 954.

      Re Paul @ 929 'Oh great - another tax; that's just what we need!
      How stupid can government be?'

      The government is far from stupid, it's the people of this country that are stupid for accepting all the * that's thrown at them. Another tax on the poor, why not ... they're the easy targets !

    • rate this

      Comment number 953.

      Yes, of course we need another tax!
      D`you know. I`m getting past caring.

    • rate this

      Comment number 952.

      This was a story only a few weeks ago. It was ridiculed then and now. Only this time we can add pushing us to eat horse!
      Defining 'junk' food is impossible for the advertising restriction. Besides parents buy the food and they like most of their children see tv past the watershed.

      We drink, eat sugary/fat foods as they are the nice ones! Why should we be taxed into eating horrible foods for life.

    • rate this

      Comment number 951.

      "Computer games, internet, online shopping and social media have caused more obesity..."

      I 'm not so sure about that I do all those things (a lot) and eat lots of unhealthy processed foods and I'm in shape. The key is exercise, but most people think that 'diets' shed weight without exercise. I roll my eyes at my fat co-workers on diets who don't even get out and jog and wonder why it wont work.

    • rate this

      Comment number 950.

      So those with nice fat protected incomes propose yet more taxes for the rest.What a shower.

    • rate this

      Comment number 949.

      Why does the headline say "Tax fizzy drinks...", when the fizziness is completely irrelevant?

    • rate this

      Comment number 948.

      So many excuses on here. Its always somebody else's fault.

      Eat less, exercise more. You don't even have to do it every day just start doing it and make it sustainable.

      Vegetables grow in the ground, Water is freely available.

      Walking further, using stairs is free. Even swimming is subsidised or free

      Or, do what you want and you deal with the consequences. It shouldn't be anyone else's problem.

    • rate this

      Comment number 947.

      Bastiat 901. Sit down, you'll give yourself a heart attack...

      I suggested a subsidy because the UK is not land rich and cannot farm good produce cost effectively, hence the reason it is more expensive than other places.
      I agree market forces generally work and live and let live a la Darwin but sometimes intervention is needed to re-balance equity when the scales are against you.

    • rate this

      Comment number 946.

      So I, a perfectly healthy person, have to pay more because fat people can't control themselves. Great.

      Here's an idea, how about you actually target fat people for once. It's not like they're hard to hit.

    • rate this

      Comment number 945.

      My BMI says I'm over weight half way between obese at 27.4 yet I run 15-20miles a week cycle for 1.5 hours a week and 4 hours of weight lifting.

      If you go regularly to the gym it not accurate, a height/ waist measurement is better.

      My boss is 2 inches tall than me and 5kg lighter and his BMI is 25 yet he has twice the waist measurement.

    • rate this

      Comment number 944.

      The answer is TAX, now what's the question?

    • rate this

      Comment number 943.

      It would be an interesting experiment to treat obesity like vehicle speeding or drink driving. If you are stopped and "weightalised" and you are over the limit its an on the spot fine and points on your "food licence." If you reach a certain number of points you have to serve a term in a strict diet prison!

    • rate this

      Comment number 942.

      932.Down the back of the sofa
      What we need is a government that stops interfering in every aspect of our lives. What we need are solutions that aren't always financially punitive.
      What we need are some actual ideas for alternative actions, not just complaints.

    • rate this

      Comment number 941.

      Why must we continually nanny people. Obesity, Smoking, Drinking, Etc.

      If they want to over indulge themselves, let them do it. Just make sure that they don't get any more support from the NHS, benefits, etc.

      Soon solve the problem.

    • rate this

      Comment number 940.

      @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.

      Even worse, all these low fat & low calorie foods are packed with sodium.

      I'd rather have the calories/fat & exercise more.

    • rate this

      Comment number 939.

      We just can't ignore this problem. The burden on the NHS arising from obesity is enormous. That burden is OUR burden! We must get a handle on this before it spirals (belly-flops?) out of control. Citizens must be educated from an early age to understand the consequences of their decisions, and the best place to start is with children (schools?) and parents. A tax for fatty/excess calories?

    • rate this

      Comment number 938.

      The obesity problem isn't about 'junk', it's about people's entire relationship with food. The way food is processed to make it 'easy to eat' and "moreish" is a far bigger issue and food co's already have the tech to duck around simple things like sat. fat etc

      The alternatives they'd use may well be no more healthy - far better people get the message 'just eat less' - the BMA should know better.

    • rate this

      Comment number 937.

      @914 Chris... I cook from scratch, I'm not talking about eating 'low-fat' '0% fat' '1% fat' etc foods. Obviously that is a false economy and actually usually worse for you if you're talking low fat dairy.

      The levels of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need are easily obtainable from starchy foods and fruit & vegetables. Not a fad at all.

    • rate this

      Comment number 936.

      @trout mask replica
      that's non sense,,, they can ban junk food. starting in school dinners


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