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 1595.

      Ban this! Tax that!

      It's all stick, stick, stick.

      How about some carrot as well?

      But this suggestion is like reducing alcohol consumption by just taxing Cider.

      Surely if you're going to use taxation to adjust people's eating habits, it's sugar itself that should carry the tax - and fat and salt.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1594.

      1567 Russell
      "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?"

      And why not have the supermarkets employ somebody to eat the crap for you? This is typical of people's attitudes.
      Government gets involved - Nanny State we cry!! First sign of trouble - we need Government advice!!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1593.

      Things like fizzy drinks and confectionery are obviously full of sugar and it's a question of educating children and adults about the harm. But what do we do about all the hidden sugar in a lot our processed food? There is sugar added to most ready made meals, sauces, bread etc. Shouldn't the government be controlling what food companies put in our food instead?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1592.

      A high proportion of the workforce in the UK work in a office environments, where we sit at a desk for 8-10 hours a day, after which we drive home or sit on a train. Very few then go out and participate in any form of exercise.

      Rather than just blaming fatty food/ sugary drinks we need to have a deeper look at the lifestyles we are leading.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1591.

      Recovering alcoholics enjoy fizzy drinks! What a great idea to make them more expensive and therefore encourage people to drink cheap cider and restart there habit. It is better to be fat and sober than drunk and dead! Please think again doctors.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1590.

      Getting children obsessed with their calorie intake will only breed a society of Anorexics. There needs to be clear consistent information given to the parents and let them manage their children's intake.

      My Mum did it when I was growing up in the 70's. Irresponsible parents letting their kids sit at a computer does not help!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1589.

      @kitty (1569)

      Because people who play sports and exercise are living a healthier therefore better life and should be encouraged. People who shovel high calorie food into their system 24/7 and live a sedentary lifestyle don't care about their health or wellbeing so why should the rest of us?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1588.

      Tax tax tax. If we were all slim and no fat people around where would they get the taxes from? Would we be taxed for being underweight and too thin? Any excuse to get money from out pockets. Fizzy drinks alone are not fattening. A doctor should already know that..duh!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1587.

      I feel the emphasis needs to be much more on increasing activity. The problem here is that children have been hounded off the streets (Labours PCSO'S and accompanying policies), schools are forced to sell off playing fields (Govt cuts), PE not a priority subject, IT SHOULD BE!! More than sport tho', just make it ok for kids to be out and about, not on computers. Reclaim The Streets for Play!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1586.

      Our Government's (Labour or Conservative) solution to any problem - impose a tax. Zero creative thinking.

    • Comment number 1585.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1584.

      To all those people calling for free gyms or swimming pools: first of all, you do not need a gym with all its fancy, expensive paraphernalia in order to get fit and stay healthy. Secondly, swimming pools cost money to maintain and service, so who do you expect to pay for your "free" swimming sessions?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1583.

      It's not junk food and fizzy drinks that are the problem pre-se. It's only eating junk food and drinking fizzy drinks or just generally eating more than you need to.

      The government recommendation of 2000Kcal per day is too blanket, if you are consuming 2000kcal and putting on weight you need less and visa-versa. You this thing called a mirror as a guide!

      But, you can't solve obesity with tax.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1582.

      1138. The_Squirrel
      'People should take responsibility for how they choose to live their lives and accept the consequences of those choices'

      Absolutely... those peddling c%£$p food or spending millions advertising harmful products should be held to account.

      Or is that just 'business'.....

    • rate this

      Comment number 1581.


      “I also think it is time that airlines started charging for passenger weight…”

      Agree. But the person who pays more should also get a bigger seat which they need for their own comfort and health.

      Also small people, who pay less, should get small seats. In their own sound proofed cabin … a long way from me.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1580.

      I can't believe the ignorance of some people. I think unhealthy foods should be taxed higher. You also don't have to be overweight to have health risks associated with an unhealthy diet.

      It is all well and good to say make healthy foods cheaper but they cost more to produce.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1579.

      Soft drinks are already more expensive than Alcohol, should I drink that instead?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1578.

      How about changing the clocks as has been suggested every few years for decades. Make the evenings lighter and people may go out and get more exercise. Scotland has it's own parliament they can keep the clocks as they are, if they want.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1577.

      its all very well saying that people should have the right to choose to eat sugars and get fat but when the obesity epidemic is breaking the healthcare system it becomes every tax payer's very expensive problem

      So typical to hear those who make money from sugary pseudo-foods defening those products against overwhelming evidence...

    • rate this

      Comment number 1576.

      The reason they won't make healthy food cheaper is because it doesn't make business sense to do that. The same reason it isn't free is the reason it won't get cheaper. Amazed I have to point this out. Fat people cost the NHS money, taxing junk food more will help balance things a bit. I'm not sure about the tax being a deterrent, but considering how much the obese cost all of us, it seems fair.


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