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 1555.

      Over 20 years ago I told my missus that the following would happen;
      Ban on Smoking
      Ban on Fatty Foods
      Ban on Alcohol
      Sick of being right all the time!!!

      The contribution that these three items bring into the economy is vast so complete bans will be slow to ensure enough taxable revenue is still trickling into the economy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1554.

      I'm not obese but every now and again I like to drink fizzy drinks, why should I be taxed because other people cannot stop feeding themselves. It's not the fizzy drinks companies fault either, this is not the 60s anymore; people know that continual over indulgence is bad for you and yet they chose to keep eating the wrong types of foods.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1553.

      A healthy lifestyle is a way of life, not a fad diet. Its the culture of our country that needs changing and that will take years to achieve.

      Exercise does not have to be expensive - I use my council facilities at a cost of only £24 a month which per class is only around £2 a time. Running, walking, cycling etc are all free.

      Education and information provision are key.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1552.

      A tax on fizzy drinks!!!
      The tax on cigerettes had no affect on reducing consumption. When smoking was banned from public places smoking fell dramatically.
      The tax will have little or no affect merely raise more money for government.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1551.

      can people please stop telling us what we can and cannot do! or more to the point tax us into oblivion such that our decisions are made for us. educate and allow greater access to the right avenues. let people make stupid decisions because people should be allowed to make mistakes. creating policy that makes decisions for people breeds stupidity in society.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1550.

      "Instead of making something that is bad for you more expensive why not for once make things that are good for you cheaper?"

      The same reason things aren't free - because it wouldn't make sense for businesses to do that.

      If you make unhealthy foods more expensive, it gives incentive not to buy them (taking stress off NHS) & generates tax money that can be used by the NHS. More practical idea

    • rate this

      Comment number 1549.

      Isn't it as simple as you choose your lifestyle and accept the consequences.

      If you eat rubbish and get fat that's your choice, there are alternative choices available.

      Support to change lifestyle is available if you want it but after that you're on your own.

      There's nothing wrong with being fat. Expecting others to pay for it is the issue.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1548.

      I eat healthily,don't snack ,eat > 5 portions of fruit and veg a day,cook from fresh ingredients,don't eat junk food,but am still overweight. Paid my NI and taxes for nearly 40 years. Arthritis, which started when I wasn't overweight,makes exercise difficult. According to many I should pay for my health care. rubbish. What about drug addicts, alcoholics or people who've never paid into the system?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1547.

      And there's always the nefarious Liverpool Care Pathway, as used at Mid Staffs hospital, to ease the burden...

      GPs acquire Gold Standard - the route to becoming foundation hospital commissioners - partly by "finding your 1%" of patients likely to die in the coming year. It's bad science, with no evidential basis for such forecasts, unsure, GPs are told: "use your intuition": ie guess.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1546.

      Being obese is a lifestyle choice, these people obviously want to be that way. Why should the rest of us suffer financially because some humans refuse to control their gluttony?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1545.

      Instead of constant tax hikes - is this epidemic not more to do with kids sat at home all day on their Consoles, pcs, tablets etc instead of playing sport where they could be burning off the surgars/calories/carbs etc - after all thats why kids are FAT these days. The advertising was not much different 30 years ago.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1544.

      If this trend of taxing everything carries on the rich can get fatter and the poor wont beable to afford anything to do anything but sit at home and stare at there walls, unless by then there is a wall tax imposed by then or a chair tax because people that sit down are unhealthy

    • rate this

      Comment number 1543.

      Obesity isn't the same as smoking/drink driving, etc because if someone chooses to eat unhealthily they are not putting others at risk in the same way as smoking in public places or driving while drunk. People should be able to eat&drink all the fat/sugar they want, but they should do so in the knowledge that it is unhealthy. However, I would love to see cheaper fruit&veg and cheaper gyms.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1542.

      Too much ignorance on this board, yet we're surprised people don't know how to make the right decisions to stay healthy.

      e.g. AubertPuig - Maybe people with BMI over 30 shouldnt be covered on the NHS??

      My BMI was recently 29 and to look at you'd say I was thin. Even now at prime fitness, my BMI is 26.

      It's not about weight, or fat, it is lifestyle. I was unfit from working too much.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1541.

      @1487-Note that I never said that medical conditions and/or genes have NO impact. I am aware that such a condition lowers the metabolic rate and affects how your body uses energy. The point is you have to get more calories than you use for any detrimental 'gene' or 'medical condition' to take effect,which is the point I am making. Want to know how this is achieved? Lack of exercise!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1540.

      They are fearful that as people start to quit smoking, they are going to run out of money to fund the NHS, so, they have to find other things to tax more heavily, such as Alchohol and Sugary Drinks.

      This country is rapidly turning into a Nanny State, soon you will have to ask if you can go to the toilet!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1539.

      think of the Physics of a fat person for a moment...
      in a car, think of the petrol saved by NOT carrying all that weight up and down the motorway
      Okay, if you want to do barking mad, we can. Fat people like me are repulsive/ugly so never have sex and won't have kids in the car with them. No kids must offset 'carrying all that weight up and down the motorway' surely?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1538.

      Fizzy drinks ?

      Will this please include the foul ditchwater known as lager ?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1537.

      anyone for a pie and a fizzy pop

    • rate this

      Comment number 1536.

      This report is imbalanced and unhelpful. Two comments:
      1 - there will be people who read this today, for whom this will be the tipping point and who will embark on a series of behaviours that lead to death from anorexia.
      2 - any commentary from senior medics on 6 and 7 figure pay packets regarding taxation should be limited to their making a proper fiscal contribution to the state


    Page 10 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.