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 1575.

      @1553 Ladyk
      "Education and information provision are key."

      The fact that we have to entertain actually teaching people that 'Eating fatty foods and not exercising = get fat' is a mindbogglingly bad sign of the human intelligence in itself. I'm almost apposed to it because its so embarrassing to face. Tbh I think most do know this but are to lazy to do anything about it. Motivation is key I reckon

    • rate this

      Comment number 1574.

      1115. Some Lingering Fog
      2 HOURS AGO
      Instead of making something that is bad for you more expensive why not for once make things that are good for you cheaper?

      That's absurdly obtuse.

      It's an editors pick and 80+ people agree with you.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1573.

      1522.CURTAINS 2012
      I can't afford Evian so what else is there to drink?
      British bottled water

      Yeah there's always one smart ass...

      The point is no-one should be prevented from buying something because it's now prohibitively expensive just because a minority abuse their bodies.

      What vices do you have - would you like to see them taxed out of reach?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1572.

      I can't see this working. Obese people generally already drink sugar-free drinks - they just eat too much food with them. Over-eating healthy food and not exercising will also make you fat.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1571.

      I make healthy choices at the supermarket and i am already penalized for this, fruit is one of the most expensive things to buy but on my one day a week i choose to indulge myself with a treat i am being penalized again? How is this fair? I pay for a gym membership and have a healthy BMI. Why not tax the people who are the problem instead of the food?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1570.

      This calls for immediate discussion.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1569.


      By the same logic, people who play sports play them as a lifestyle choice. Why should we have to pay for the injuries that they sustain whilst doing such 'dangerous' activities?

      Slippery slope again. Penalising one group over another is the same divide and rule tactic the government are trying on all things.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1568.

      good to see them wanting to tackle the sugar problem but they make the clasic mistake of lumping saturated fats with sugar.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1567.

      Much of the food we eat comes from supermarkets. Why not require them to provide a total calorie count on the week's shopping bill together with other key statistics?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1566.

      To Nitwon who suggests their philosophy on life is to enjoy it, I agree. I enjoy life taking walks in the sun, hiking to incredible mountain views, swimming open water for the freedom and adventure. I wouldn’t describe sitting in my armchair watching television stuffing my face full of McDonalds and weighing so much that I can barely shift from my seat to go to the toilet, “enjoying life”.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1565.

      ah Curtains 2012, you've just beat me on that. British bottled water could be less than 46p for 1.5 litre in any supermarket.
      Mike from Brum: by the way, I have a six-pack, I am proud of it and it has cost me absolutely nothing to have it [if you exclude swimming goggles, running shoes and a bike]. And I do like my wine [decent stuff, not the vile concoction some people buy in carton boxes..]

    • rate this

      Comment number 1564.

      some of the obese people on benefits complain about not being able to afford the gym, yet, they all seem to have sky, mobile phones, 50 inch tv's, computers branded track suits for kids, and expensive trainers, they sit watching jeremy kyle, some even going on his show, these are the ones you see wobbling at great speed into macdonalds with fat kids in tow, tax money well spent eh!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1563.

      I enjoy fizzy drinks occasionally and have been known to eat junk food once in a while. I am fit and not overweight. I know what does and does not constitute a healthy diet. The majority of the population are just like me but, once again, 90% of people are being penalised because of the actions of the remaining 10%. Decrease the price of healthy food instead.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1562.

      dr.david ( thin dr. ) of course you are right .let us also get rid of the "PC" brigade.Fat is ugly. it shows a certain attitude and social class , as do dirty teeth. there really is no excuse for that nowadays.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1561.

      Primal Blueprint or Paleo is the way forward.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1560.

      "A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm" would include:
      Most meat adverts
      Fruit Juice
      Pies (possibly all pies, inc Veg)
      All Margerine, butter and butter like spreads
      All cooking oil
      Full fat yogurt
      Low fat yogurt (high in sugar)
      But not:
      Diet drinks (Proven to be as bad for insulin reaction as sugar)

    • rate this

      Comment number 1559.

      So only the rich will be able to get fat now....

    • rate this

      Comment number 1558.

      4 Minutes ago
      I say why should we pay because I work six days a week to pay for a mortgage and to feed and keep my family warm
      I dont have kids so i fund their education and your child benefits. Do you or you other half get tax credits? if so then I fund those. I dont smoke or drink, do you? my point was that everyone has a part of their lives funded by someone else

    • Comment number 1557.

      This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1556.

      A lot of fizzy drinks consumed today are very low calorie - due to artificial sweetners and that can also apply to other "sugary" products.Would these also be subject to the proposed "fat" tax - potentially could be to avoid encouraging use!? Its known that artificial sugars add towards sugar cravings and thus don't help you to loose weight as expected, they also have potential safety issues.


    Page 9 of 87


    More Health stories



    • Two sphinxes guarding the entrance to the tombTomb mystery

      Secrets of ancient burial site keep Greeks guessing

    • The chequeBig gamble

      How does it feel to bet £900,000 on the Scottish referendum?

    • Tattooed person using tabletRogue ink

      People who lost their jobs because of their tattoos

    • Deepika PadukoneBeauty and a tweet

      Bollywood cleavage row shows India's 'crass' side

    • Relief sculpture of MithrasRoman puzzle

      How to put London's mysterious underground temple back together

    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.