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 1175.

      1029 Wicked Witch

      You are obviously not only a well educated, caring person but also a responsible one - sadly many aren't & this is possibly where the problem lies.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1174.

      Can we please refer to obese people as what they are... FAT, again? As with the majority of social stigmas nowadays the issue has been softened by over-PC. There is no reason to apart from the fact that you haven't noticed/don't care that you are "fat" because you are only "obese". A lack of discrimination that clearly costs everybody.

      Sometimes it just takes tough love from a non-obese heart.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1173.

      This is a stupid idea. A litre bottle of "own brand" cola in a supermarket costs about 20p. The two big named brands cost about £2. People buy the named brands despite this 1000% name markup, so just how much tax would have to be put on to stop people buying what their kids "have to have"?
      The more expensive it becomes, the more important it will be to kids to have it!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1172.

      Another ploy to get the public paying more tax, the deficit has to be filled after all. It's beyond me why politicians believe we will be hoodwinked by the notion this is being done for our "benefit"

    • rate this

      Comment number 1171.

      These Doctors are over stepping the line into politics... What I don't understand is that there are calls to ban food adverts until after 9pm, but no one has thought about the constant adverts for gambling on tv... Doctors please keep out, we are all grown adults able to make decisions.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1170.

      It is thoroughly disgusting that people arn't taking responsibility for their own actions.
      There are some people out there who have genuine health issues that CAUSED obesity. I'm one of those people and I ran 5k only just yesterday in my living room since it was too dark/late.
      If people cared about themselves or their friends/family they would get off the couch!
      Laziness is not a worthy excuse.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1169.

      Its inherently unfair to mark up prices of fizzy drinks if rational and responsible individuals enjoy these products in moderation. I gym 5-6 times a week, train both rugby and tennis and do 4 cardio sessions per week. You're telling me that I can't enjoy a diet coke, at relatively reasonable prices, because obese people dont have the capacity for self-control? this call for taxation is ridiculous

    • rate this

      Comment number 1168.

      It seems we the voting Citizens only Have 2 rights left to us and those are:
      1)The Right to pay every Idiotic Tax our unscrupulous politicians can dream up
      2) The right to be told what to think, say, do and now eat by every puffed up pressure group you care to name.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1167.

      i thought doctors were in charge of our health not the economy but i forgot that inexperiance in a field does not stop you interfering after all a history graduate is in charge of britains economy so why not healthcare proffesionals too .

    • rate this

      Comment number 1166.

      1109.old before my time
      Domestic chores can be a battle ground in some households, it's true- sorry if my post offended you, it wasn't meant in that way at all! My other half is the clean and tidy one out of us, thankfully, I don't know what I'd do if someone tried to force me into giving up my job and staying at home to do the chores though, can think of nothing worse

    • rate this

      Comment number 1165.

      So if you are not fat you still get to pay the extra tax if you fancy the odd soft drink then?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1164.

      pa: speak for yourself. I detest fizzy drinks.They taste and feel like a nuclear fission is taking place in your throat and stomach. You can feel getting fat as you drink them. What's wrong with water? Why Brits cannot drink water? Why they have to put their hideous fruits like blueberry and raspberry even in water? Stop watching cretinous cooking programmes or gorging on curry and start cooking.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1163.

      Do governments have to tax everything? The only thing I enjoy which isn't taxed yet is the air I breath. If this "tax" money was used pruely for the areas being taxed then there probably wouldn't be as issue. No green tax will ever stop mother nature and I guess any taxes raised through the "Fizzy Drinks Tax" will not be used to fight obesity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1162.

      Why don't we put a tax on MP's after all they created this mess

    • rate this

      Comment number 1161.

      I'm not fat and I like fizzy drinks. Here's an idea: rather than penalising those of us who can control what goes into our gobs why not narrow the doorways to food shops or put pressure plates in which weigh you. If you are over, say, 18 stone, shutters come down over all the junk food sections. It's the next logical step if the authorities insist on treating us like kids.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1160.

      People need to start taking responsibility for their own bodies and diet. For some people it is tantamount to self-harm...

    • rate this

      Comment number 1159.

      What's the point of a 'fizzy drinks' tax, most fizzy drinks are made with sweeteners anyway, even the non-diet variants. It's why I never buy them. A 'crisp tax' would be better, since it's impossible to make crisps healthy

    • rate this

      Comment number 1158.

      Denmark repealed its 'Fat Tax' and shelved 'sugar tax' after 1 year. Higher change in consumer habits.

      true but what it didn't repeal was the tax on sugary drinks which it has had for years.
      Also Denmark doesn't have the same obesity problem as the UK so people didn't see the need for another "fat tax"

    • rate this

      Comment number 1157.

      how about we change attitudes like we did with smokers and start to openly persecute fat people by stigmatizing them in the way we did with smokers

    • rate this

      Comment number 1156.

      As i'm not overweight or obese then why should i pay a 'fat tax'. Surely anybody with a BMI less than 25 should get a rebate


    Page 29 of 87


    More Health stories



    Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
    Take me there

    Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.