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

Related Stories

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.

Calculate your BMI

Select: Metres | Feet

Select: Kilograms | Pounds | Stone


    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."


    More on This Story

    Related Stories

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


    This entry is now closed for comments

    Jump to comments pagination
    • rate this

      Comment number 1055.

      1007.old before my time
      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.

      Yes there is, we cook fresh every day it only takes 10-30 min's to prep and cook a meal

      What do most people do? bung an oven ready meal in the oven then sit in front of the TV, then wonder why they are fat

    • rate this

      Comment number 1054.

      It is actually a lot harder than you may assume to actually get fat, least of all because at the verge of obesity your face just feels like you've had too much to eat, your friends should start pointing out that you are a fatty, etc. More warnings will just equal more ignoring. People don't get fat because they are stupid but because they are lazy. Bring back bullying, it used to solve this!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1053.

      Bastiat, You completely fail to see my point. On most subjects I would agree with your philosophy but not on this particular issue. A or B could be fair depending...300 words can't explain. you are obviously not too poor to feed your family well. I could argue with you all day but I must be productive and earn for my family. Another day maybe.....

    • rate this

      Comment number 1052.

      As my Nan used to say: "everything in moderation". That's the education that needs to be driven.

      Where will adding more tax to everything, and then having barely any effect, stop?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1051.

      There's cognitive dissonance on the NHS issue here. I think we all agree that healthcare should be unobtrussive, but when we're all paying the NHS's bills, and struggling to do so, we can't go throwing away money on entirely avoidable issues.
      I dont think tax alone, is a solution, but something needs to be done. Perhaps a contribution system like our dental care for uncooporative patients.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1050.

      If we weren't taxed to the hilt to pay for people's bad choices, like drinking bucket loads of coke, through an NHS - this wouldn't be an issue. We subsidise poor individual choices.

      Our current system passes individual responsibility onto the taxpayer, onto your wallet. I'm more likely to drink 1L of coke a day & eat junk for dinner because you pay for my diabetes treatment etc.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1049.

      When I see fat children walking beside fat parents it fills me with despair as these unhealthy kids have not been given a fair chance of health in life, they are literally saddled with fat from such a young age. And lets not be afraid to call fat as fat and do say that it is not an ‘OK’ state to be in.

      Taking a kilo of sugar a week out of these kids calorie intake can only do them good.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1048.

      Surely education is much more important and necessary!
      Just look at some of the spelling and grammar on this blog!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1047.

      "The Govt bans smoking. People's weights start to go up."

      The smoke yourself slimmer diet. I recall Homer Simpson went on that.

      Why the obsession with gyms? Nobody needs a gym to get fit. Just walk or cycle more as an alternative to the car or public transport. Take up running if you are more serious.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1046.

      In response to old before my time, I'm single, work full time in a professional career, and have 3 children. They are slim, healthy, fit, etc. I cook them home-cooked meals using fresh products. They drink high juice (containing sugar) and fresh juice (or water) as I react badly to aspartame and don't trust it. It is possible, it just takes thought and proper planning.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1045.

      Put fat people on treadmills/exercise bikes that are hooked to the National Grid, that way we'll generate some energy too as well as give jobs. Problem solved!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1044.

      LogicMonkey: not very logic but certainly a monkey. Socialists are fat? Mmm, Eric Pickles, white van rabid right-wing builders, Mail-reader-Costa-del-bust expats and so on with the morbidly obese. I really don't think so. Left-of-centre here and 10st, cycling, swimming and fit. Unlike you and many others on here blaming everything [including their obesity] on the left. Just get a better argument.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1043.

      This is not an education issue, it does not take a genius to work out the difference between healthy and junk food, that not exercising is bad for you and so on.

      This is a responsibility issue and people choose to ignore common sense knowing that the NHS will step in a spend thousands of pounds treating them when it all goes wrong.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1042.

      Research has led the corps to realise correctly that sugar is addictive and increasing the level in their products results in more sales. The idea of taxing sugar in these items goes against their plans somewhat meaning this will never happen. To some degree they already have implemented this anyway, have you seen the size of a Mars bar lately ?.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1041.

      That is not what we use taxes for, to talk down to citizens and treat them like children. It should not be within the government's purview to to attempt to change what goes into a citizen's body, that is a private matter.
      Side note, I doubt any of you will be running 10k's at 110 yrs old, much less be able to wipe yourselves without the aid of a nurse. Food for though.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1040.

      Overeating dulls our emotions, the more we eat the further away our troubles seem to be. I think the solution is very much around changing our personal relationship to food. Having a look at our behavior and getting help in changing our thinking and underlying problems that create bad eating and drinking patterns.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1039.

      I agree people should be free to live how they please and eat what they please. However I don't see why society should pick up the medical bill.
      People are dying of hyperthermia because they are unable to pay for heating, yet binge drinkers, drug addicts, smokers and people who cannot cannot control themselves when it comes to looking after their diet and general health are given a free ride.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1038.

      Why oh why do seemingly intelligent people like doctors think that taxing fizzy drinks (and for that matter, fags and booze) will make the slightest difference to consumption. IT WON'T. You would need to multiply prices by 10x to make any impact. Fiddling about with a few % tax is a waste of time.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1037.

      why does the government think it can get out of every problem by taxing everything?

      These drinks companies are already taxed and a new tax would only add around 20-30p to the price which i don't think would make people stop buying them.

      The government should concentrate on more sports for kids. People who do a good amount of exercise tend to eat healthier too.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1036.

      1) If you want to curb obesity over society ban advertising on all food and drink, and make it all plain packaging. This of course can never happen due to the power corporations have...
      2) Teach the population to be aware of there own personal dietary needs. Better education and understanding, offering well trained nutritionists on the NHS who can tailor diet plan to suite personal requirements.


    Page 35 of 87


    More Health stories



    BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

    This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.