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 1015.

      Anybody who has/tried to give up smoking will know. Weight gain is a downside of the withdrawl from smoking.
      The Govt bans smoking. People's weights start to go up. The govt complains about obesity ..... go figure
      Majority of people know that fast food outlets are the cause of this so-called obesity problem. But the Govt are so scared to take on big name US companies to do anything about it

    • rate this

      Comment number 1014.

      172.Charlotte "Free gyms/swimming wouldn't go a miss..."

      Yes and you can lead a horse to water ....

    • rate this

      Comment number 1013.

      this sugar tax idea is a sticking plaster on a generational eating and lifestyle problem. the real solution lies with better food education at a younger age, more physical exercise in schools as well as restricting advertising and display of sugary foods in supermarkets. We need to wake people up to the fact that living and eating healthy is actually a more enjoyable way of life.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1012.

      @989 "If I could afford to go to a gym, i'd go. But even my university gym charges more than I can afford."

      The gym should only really be used if you want to bulk up. If you want to lose weight go running. It's the best burner, at the gym you might get muscular under the fat but that fat won't burn as well. Running around your local area is free, or invest in a rowing machine if its hazardous out

    • rate this

      Comment number 1011.

      I guess those allergic to Aspartame (like me) can just stick to pure juices or water (water makes me thirstier for some reason).

    • rate this

      Comment number 1010.

      I've just been given a free 1 month membership to my local gym by Camden council, with another free month if I go at least 5 times in the first month.
      An absolutely brilliant scheme which has made me realise how unfit I am, this has had a massive positive impact on my general well being & diet and has actually saved me money by not wanting to by crap food.

      More of this please.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1009.

      @Nitwon - I'd be fine with that, if it wasn't for the fact that my taxes are spent on treating them for their choices.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1008.

      Where do you think the £s for that subsidy comes from?
      A) A rival business, who now passes the cost of funding subsising their competition onto consumers - inflating prices?

      B) From the consumer's wage, now they have less £s to buy goods with?

      How is A or B fair?

      Do you see the mess you create when u intervene?
      Why don't you address the subisiding of people's bad choices?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1007.

      There are not enough hours in the day for a working Mum to make stews/casseroles/healthy meals. Many are also trying to care for elderly relatives.

      Obesity has risen dramitcally since women were forced to go out to work.

      Women who want to have a lifetime career should think carefully before having children - they are a full time job.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1006.

      Is tax really the only way this country can deal with a problem - why should I have to pay more for someone else's inability to control themselves. We used to have personal responsibility in this country; that seems to have gone down the drain.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1005.

      Nitwon, As you say everyone is free to choose what they eat. However the public are having to pay in to form of taxes for the medical bills of those who abuse their bodies. This should not be, the people who abuse their bodies should pay for the consequent medical bills.

      Therefore I absolutely agree that their should be a hefty tax on junk food, that the extra tax should be allocated to the NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1004.

      If tax is a solution to every problem, than why dont we tax the poor to eradicate poverty.

      It's because tax is not the solution! Idiots

    • rate this

      Comment number 1003.

      we live in a society driven by commercials,,,, it's all money money money. do they care about the well being of the people when they ask them to work till they drop? I don't think so

    • rate this

      Comment number 1002.

      So after going on about alcohol for ages and taxing it they now propose taxing us on the non-alcoholic alternatives.
      I think it's about time doctors just shut up and got on with what they are supposed to be paid for.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1001.

      Why do our highly educated upper classes think that the way to solve 99% of problems they cannot solve is to raise tax?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1000.

      Tax-Tax-Tax why dont the goverment cut to the chase and do away with paying us any money and give us potatoes instead...then they can keep all the dosh for themselves which is what they want all along.

    • rate this

      Comment number 999.

      In the end its the consumer who decides what they buy, and sadly too many people don't know how to prepare and cook food from scratch, preferring to buy it ready to shove in the oven to save time.

      In regards sugary drinks, parents get their kids dependant on sugar by giving them full sugar drinks like Coke, Pepsi, Fanta etc.

    • rate this

      Comment number 998.

      Another tax for the poor?? We will end up with a section of the population on bread and water, unable to travel or smoke, not due to market forces but through the greed of the government that is supposed to be protecting their freedom to choose. On the other hand, rich will carry on doing what they want. If you want to limit fizzy drinks, then limit them for all through regulation, not cost!

    • rate this

      Comment number 997.

      To read the BBC pages one would think that all of mankind's problems would be solved, if only all the fat people could either disappear or become slim.

      How many threads like this have we had now?

      Talk about dumbed-down.

    • rate this

      Comment number 996.

      Yet another tax funded lobbying group paid by the government to lobby itself to raise more taxes, brilliant. On p49 of the report is a table of yes responses 91 (highest) said "Give healthy lifestyle advice" only 9 said yes to "Lobby government regarding lifestyle issues such as food advertising,
      labelling, sponsorship, service provision, etc." doesn't asking for tax constitute lobbying?


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