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 1155.

      What does fizz have to do with calories? How about taxing drinks based on calories per litre? Because taxing fizzy drinks means you tax diet cola and sparkling water too and whats the point in that?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1154.

      "1137.Matt Dixon wrote: Can I please ask why the answer to all of the health problems this country faces, seems to be to raise taxes?"

      Yes, Matt, you may ask by all means, but you probably won't get a sensible answer out of this government.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1153.

      Doctors are witches of the modern era. You pay that witch some money and he will help you cure your disease, give advice on your enemy and sometimes, even telling about your forthcoming fortune or misfortune.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1152.

      I am a carer for my brother now (after my parents passing)' and got him down from 24 stone to 16 st 4 In just over 4 years. Unfortunately, my mother gave into his wants, (chips, bacon, fry-ups) so I've had to reverse this process by giving him healthy food. He cant exercise much as is imobile, so had to do it via diet. Genesis diet helps, but just be sensible and dont eat too much sugar/fats

    • rate this

      Comment number 1151.

      I don't mind telling everyone here, I drink a lot of fizzy drink, including a lot of coke zero. Howevr, I also visit the gym 3 times a week and am extremely healthy in my diet and exercise regime. Tell me again why I should pay more?
      It's simple, tax the problem. Tax fat people more. We're all thinking it so let's just put it out their flab

    • rate this

      Comment number 1150.

      There was a programme on TV last year saying the reason for our weight gain wasn't fat, but sugar. It also discussed our the governments are complicit with the food manurfacturers in this con. We only have to look at the current debarcle to see this. Maybe the government should watch this series themselves and perhaps be more open as to which of them is funded/lobbied by the big food corps?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1149.

      We do have way too many fat people in the UK right now, and they seem to lack the ability to do anything about their sorry situation for themselves.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1148.

      When you have a serious issue/problem you should direct energys at those who are the problem & not everyone else.

      Such a blanket imposition on all is lazy, non sensical & is more about NOT offending fat/obese people, which is ridiculous.

      1st up, Obese children & their parents should be targetted, paying for your child to be a glutton & obese & dangerous health is itself a form of child abuse

    • rate this

      Comment number 1147.

      putting a higher tax on foods (fatty/junk or otherwise) is not the answer... just means you shove the problem elsewhere, or people get in to more debt to feed their habit.

      There is a huge underlying problem with regarding healthy lifestyles and making suitable choices - it's this that needs investment/programs.

      There has to be a large amount of personal responsibility here

    • rate this

      Comment number 1146.

      Lets drop this BMI rubbish.Its a huge generalisation and needs to be used correctly or not at all. It takes no account of muscles mass, body shape, etc that is why many sports stars are according to BMI,obese. Only when used with waist to height ratio is it meaningful and needs to be less 0.5. Better still tell any male with over a 40 inch waist they are a walking heart attack waiting to happen.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1145.

      How about a 3 strikes type thing for the NHS.

      If your condition is caused/exacerbated by your lifestyle choices, you have to work with health professionals to change. If you fail to do this you get a warning. After three times you are no longer treated on the NHS for that specific condition - You'd have to self fund.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1144.

      1007.old before my time
      Both my mother and father worked full time and who was ever at home at meal times cooked the meals from fresh food and as we got old enough we had to take ower turn of cooking meals for the family my mum & dad had 5 boys & 1 girl we all so had to go and do the shopping on a Saturday morning

    • rate this

      Comment number 1143.

      Doctors are right to point out that this is happening but I don't think it's up to them to fix it. There is no point in making it artificially more expensive with special taxes, when some people have got into the habit of drinking it all the time. It's more of a social problem.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1142.

      Any tax on fast food and fizzy drinks should be used to subsidise fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods.

      Ready meals can be cheap by comparison and with the convenience factor, less and less people are cooking anything from scratch so they have no idea what's going into their food.

      Cheaper fruit and veg means less obesity, less strain on NHS and more resources for education on nutrition.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1141.

      @1115 Lingering fog
      Great idea, but I want to pick.
      Can you imagine the arguments over what is actually good for you.
      My first choice is Vegan/Vegetarian food
      your go.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1140.

      General government policy response for a problem in society:

      Tax more... tax much even more!

      Why, on Earth, do we bother voting for such "waste-space" MPs?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1139.

      If our politicians were as powerful and important as they would have us believe, they would force the manufacturers to reduce the fat and sugar content of their products. Taxing everything is a lazy response.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1138.

      People should take responsibility for how they choose to live their lives and accept the consequences of those choices.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1137.

      Can I please ask why the answer to all of the health problems this country faces, seems to be to raise taxes?

      Raising the price of consumer goods, is not a long term solution. It is a method of controlling the less wealthy, by way of playing god; forcing them to act in a way they do not desire.

      Spend money educating the public about the potential health risks and grant them their autonomy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1136.

      As for 'if it makes them happy' argument, grow up. Ask the fat at school if he's happy. Ask the 20st parent who can't or play with their kids.

      It's a joke that the PC brigade can castigate people who promote health for our society and future. The country needs to big smack around it's collective face.


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