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 995.

      Surely though, over-eating is unlike wilful law-breaking because it is genetically built in. Our ancestors experienced famine, so when food was present, they ate copiously. This meant the sight of food evolved as a stimulus.
      Why not abolish food advertising & displays, frost glass on restaurant windows, etc. " Out of sight, out of mind," works, open the fridge if you don't believe me!.

    • rate this

      Comment number 994.

      There is an opportunity for Labour, (or LibDims) it makes as much sense to introduce a weight tax as any asset tax, on houses or jewellery as their latest scams of ideas they come up with. Report to your local tax office for weighing, biggest fat tax avoiders will be easy to spot and chase down! Do not give the immoral political parties ideas, they are insanely nasty already wanting window tax.

    • rate this

      Comment number 993.

      the only solution is tax?? Come-on! I would expect a deeper respect for the problem from doctors!!!

      Why not educate? Replace the fast food ads with health education campaigns! Replace the Maccas billboards with health suggestions.

      Education is always the problem - tax is never the solution!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 992.

      Why not just tax the air and have done with it??

    • rate this

      Comment number 991.

      My god you people are up early..

      Fizzy drink?

      What the hell is next.

    • rate this

      Comment number 990.

      Having travelled to more than 50 countries, I can say that those in many poorer countries eat far better than us westerners. Using "it's too expensive to buy good food" is an exercise in futility. Cooking healthy food is cheaper than buying pre-packaged meals. Can't we pick up a cook book or turn on a cooking programme to educate ourselves or are we more interested in watching some reality TV?

    • rate this

      Comment number 989.

      I'm a severely overweight guy, and frankly, the fizzy drink I consume way and above anything else is pepsi max; nothing else even comes close. and it's a diet soft drink. Adverts don't make me buy junk food; my desire for junk food makes me buy junk food. If I could afford to go to a gym, i'd go. But even my university gym charges more than I can afford.

    • rate this

      Comment number 988.

      If they are going to provide universal healthcare it must be unobtrusive; expecting us to change our lifestyles to reduce the cost burden on a service we are forced into paying for is morally wrong. Either allow us to lead our lives as we please or allow us to opt out of the NHS and all associated costs.

    • rate this

      Comment number 987.

      Its not just foods that are the problem.

      So many things are now done using electronic tools/machinery & even short journeys are via motorised transport that normal historical human everyday excercise is greatly reduced.

      Putting blame on one area is negligent & not usefull, nor is reducing/restricting the rights/freedoms/choices of the majority due to a minority problem.

    • rate this

      Comment number 986.

      @Brangy "The processed food industry takes advantage of natural laziness"

      I disagree. Most of us who buy too much convenience food do so because we have to work all the hours that God sends in order to survive and we're too shattered for time consuming cooking of fresh food after work.

    • rate this

      Comment number 985.

      Its not working with tobacco so what makes aomrc think it will with fizzy drinks?!

      I didn't realise we're at mercy of doctors to decide how we lead our lives and what we eat and do. Advice is one thing but this is more along the lines of control.

    • rate this

      Comment number 984.

      The cost to the NHS of obesity is irrelevant to any argument. The care the NHS is chartered to provide is unqualified by a UK resident's individual situation. If convicted criminals are eligible for NHS medical care, why should a law-abiding obese person not be eligible also? I do not wish to see the UK introduce a US-style private medical system which rips-off the patient in search of profit.

    • rate this

      Comment number 983.

      We need to get rid of the political correctness when it comes to obesity. Teachers, politicians and all NHS staff should be required to keep their weight within a set limit. Eric Pickles for example is a ludicrous figure to have as a government minister. There's been enough 'education' about this problem. We need a much more robust approach to tackling the issue of fat people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 982.

      Very strange how doctors are backing a increase in costs for a drink instead of stating that the drink makers put less sugar etc it the drinks. Are they getting a deal from the government to back increases to food/drink? Where will it stop if it goes ahead? What about all the sweets people eat? Another reason to get in more money as like fuel if we need it we`ll buy it regardless!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 981.

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


      It's Doctors calling for a tax, not government.

      And yes, the Doctors are being stupid.

    • rate this

      Comment number 980.

      OK, tax the 'bad' stuff - fair enough, but how about subsidising the 'healthy' stuff in return to make it a more viable option? The carrot to go with the stick if you will, so that we don't cynically think of it as just another tax.

    • rate this

      Comment number 979.

      Tax is a win-win scenario for the government guys

      They get a 100% cash gain... while the problem remains

      ...then because it doesn't work... they put the tax up


      ...and again

      ...and again

      It's a great way for them to make huge piles of money out of thin air

    • rate this

      Comment number 978.

      Sigh, the usual default government "Thinktank", answer then.

      "Erm, none of us can come up with something clever... let's raise tax! Solved! Woohoo!"

      Reduce gym costs, tax break on diet soda, promote tasty alternatives etc.. It's not rocket science. They just can't be bothered putting in the extra effort it seems.

    • rate this

      Comment number 977.

      874. Wideboy
      23 MINUTES AGO
      Go down the gym, it's that simple
      Of course it is - are you offering to pay the annual subscription for our family of 5?

    • rate this

      Comment number 976.

      Why not a hefty tax on takeaway outlets? This might go some way to solving the obesity problem, the litter problem and the increasing urban fox problem.


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