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 1035.

      Erm, banning advertisement and putting high taxes on things won't stop lazy people being lazy.

      What's next? Couch tax?

      I like fizzy drinks and succumbing to a "mac attack" every so often is great. Sometimes some junk food does the trick. I eat these things and manage to stay in shape.

      Why should I be penalised simply because fat people are fat?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1034.

      I don't need a fizzy drinks tax or fat tax to guide my eating/drinking decisions. Why on earth does any other adult?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1033.

      Nah, nah, nah, what would a bunch of bloomin Doctors know anyway?

      I've been drinking 5 bottles of Coke a day for the past 5 years and let me tell yer tiny brains - he winks - I've never looked better, OK?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1032.

      Oh Puh-leeze

      Ppl are living longer now than at any point in our evolutionary history. A big factor in that is better nutrition. We are also told that 40% of females born now will live to at least 100, so it doesn’t seem to be curtailing future life expectancy in a major way.

      Taxing is not a deterrent, it’s a method of raising finance, just ask car owners, or ppl that drink alcohol.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1031.

      Why should I have to pay the price because others are unable to control their own consumption ?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1030.

      don`t worry all - chips,sweets,crisps,nuts,ice cream put weight on.......just a minute to stop people putting weight on we`ll tax these foods. This means we`ll get more money and we`ll con people into thinking we are winning the battle against obesity!
      Educate people from school age / cut the amount of range and amount of facings of a product shops can put on sale - have more less sugar drinks

    • rate this

      Comment number 1029.

      1007. old before my time - working women have enough on their plate without you blaming them for the obesity epidemic! Incidentally, a slow cooker can cook a stew/casserole/healthy meal while you are at work, and it will be ready to eat when you get home. I use mine 4/5 times a week.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1028.

      Here we go again, fat bashing - yes obesity is an issue like smoking, alcohol, antisocial behaviour and cancer etc etc.
      Please do tax the ghastly fizzy drinks. Like a number of other people I don't drink. I get stared at for eating salad and drinking tea, especially at lunch times - I am a weird obese person as I am eating healthy who doesn't snack on junk food nor drink junk.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1027.

      When the FSA can help within it's CUT budget, and try deal with the process of meat and food.

      Never-mind Soft-drinks.

      No offence intended to the food auditor's

      Show guidance, and stop worrying about being whistle-blower's.

      The people will listen.

      I don't really think people are going to listen to this.

      What is this another TORY smoke-screen?

      Pathetic, it really is.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1026.

      My local gym is about 1mile from my front door.
      Every night, I put my running shoes on and run as fast as I can to the gym.
      I look through the front window/doors at all the idiots paying £50 a month to use it's running machine. Then I turn around and run back home as fast as I can.

      I remain well within my weight limit and save a fortune.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1025.

      Saturated fat and Chloresterol have been unfairly demonised. The body makes its own chloresterol, diet contributes very little and fat is metabolised differently from sugars. The crisis has begun as everybody cut back on fats. It's the carbohydrates that are the problem.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1024.

      Are these doctors a member of the lib dem party because this is as stupid as their tax jewellery idea. Taxing more won't help, instead educate people more, parents need to start saying no to tgeir kids, lower sugar in drinks etc.

      Fizzy drinks arn't the problem either unless it's your teeth, it's fat from solid food pizza chips kababs etc that put the bulk on and do the damage.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1023.

      I think part of the problem now is that obesity is fast becoming the norm and I think that a lot of people who are obese see themselves as normal.This is something I notice a lot when I visit other European countries.You don't see all the obese young people that you see here.We've followed USA in our eating habits.In Europe people value proper food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1022.

      I do hope this means that the Diet varieties will not go up in price

      Im type 1 diabetic so juices, fresh squuzed or not, and other things cost me anough as it is. Without taxing my non sugary diet coke!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1021.

      if we lower the tax already on junk food and as the health secretary has told us that only the poor are obese it follows that more poor people will die of obesity related illness . heres an idea ban firms from making the stuff if its concerning you that much . tax is not always the answer .

    • rate this

      Comment number 1020.

      why not make healhtier food more available instead of taxing fizzy drinks (which not everyone likes anyway) If the little packets of nuts and dried fruit you can get from the larger supermarkets were available in the vending machines etc instead of chocolate and crisps people would have the choice to eat healthily when they don't have time to stop and get a decent meal

    • rate this

      Comment number 1019.

      You know the government have no intention of EVER actually fixing a problem when they tax it because if the problem goes away, so does their revenue from the tax.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1018.

      One of the problem with the docs is that they are trying to dictate what is healthy and what isn't, and in a way that is relevant for the whole population. Different people have different diet requirements, and what is bad 4 one, is good for an other. Your average GP will come across quite ignorant when it comes to what is a 'healthy diet' as it wont be tailored to ur needs

      Also your average GP

    • rate this

      Comment number 1017.

      Although there are lots of things that can help reduce obesity the only sure way is to restrict the amounts of sugar, fats and salt that food producers can put into their products.
      They all compete with each other for market share by making their products taste as good as they can and this is achieved by using the three most addictive elements mentioned. Government need to set legal limits.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1016.

      @940 again this is an invalid argument because I don't buy so called "low fat" processed foods... not sure where that assumption keeps coming from. Obviously cutting out meat/dairy/eggs/oil and eating starch and veg isn't for everyone but at least the health benefits are supported by scientific research.


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