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 1535.

      I bought healthily this weekend. Salad and seeds and nuts and veg. My bill was double what it would be normally, and little of what I bought has a long shelf life, even in my fridge. Get healthy food down to an affordable price and stop judging those who currently have no option but the cheap junk.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1534.

      I'm a little begrudged to agree with yet ANOTHER tax devised to sway our actions towards a better option. We don't need to charge extra for something just to get people to avoid it. How about making healthy choices cheaper with tax relief? Responsible advertising is a great idea too. I'm fully behind a healthy nation, not additional taxes. It must start with education, not hitting the pockets.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1533.

      Can we have a tax on health warnings please

    • rate this

      Comment number 1532.

      People complaining about the cost of gyms, it's just another excuse isn't it?
      Pair of decent running trainers £40. A few quid for a pair of shorts, socks and a t-shirt. You're all set to get out for a run which is one of the biggest calorie burners of any exercise.
      Now that excuse has gone which one is it now? Genetics maybe? Slow metabolism?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1531.

      Britain can join Mayor Blumberg of New York City in banning sales of soda larger than 16 ounces.Britain is a nanny state anyway, telling people what they must do, can and can't do right down to what curvature banana they must eat makes this right up their alley.Educating them won't work, they aren't amenable to understanding and changing their behavior.Now what about smoking and binge drinking?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1530.

      Given that so many people die in hospitals, maybe we should ban hospitals.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1529.

      What is needed is for someone to build a fat sucking machine, could be installed into fat people then them drain off, surplus fat could be used in fat power stations, no need for fracking then

    • rate this

      Comment number 1528.

      I enjoy fizzy water, not the posh stuff, just the cheap super market own barnd, straight out of the fridge, poured over a mountain of ice.

      Is that getting taxed too?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1527.

      The final paragraph.... the Government is helping us to live longer?
      Why? They can't afford the pension or care costs as it is.
      At least let us die happier (albeit earlier) and save them the cost.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1526.

      Education about what constitutes a healthy diet and how to prepare it should be part of the school curriculum then no one would buy this junk anyway. Many kids these days cannot recognize nor know what to do with simple fruits and veggies. Why should every problem be attempted to be fixed with a tax?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1525.

      But it is a very good question ~ why can't a doctor prescribe a gym membership for someone who is overweight. Particularly for those who struggle with weight ~ learning how to chance their routine and their habits is the way to create long-lasting positive changes to healthy living.

      Pharmacy's role in this will pretty much be determined by the NHS budget when it is released later this year.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1524.

      In a diabetic epidemic nation - why are they even legal?

      Because no-one forces you to drink them! And don't give me the 'addicted' spiel, Tango isn't Crystal became addicted by didn't happen overnight.

      Pathetic response from the ever growing 'not my fault' brigade.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1523.

      Let's not forget that the way BMI is measured is flawed. It doesn't take into account the fact that muscle weights more than fat, that human beings come in all shapes and sizes, that it's far more important to have a health heart than worry about faddy diets that may make you skinny but also very unhealthy. For these reasons I take every story I read about obesity with a pinch of salt.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1522.

      Just now

      I can't afford Evian so what else is there to drink?


      British bottled water

    • rate this

      Comment number 1521.

      How about banning adverts which tell people not to cook at home but order takeaway instead, whilst showing people being harrassed by chefs. fizzy drinks have been around for decades now, alot of the time its down to the parents. As for lowing gym prices, whats wrong with some gyms offering £10.99-15.99 a month membership with no contract? This still not cheap enough for you?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1520.

      Im not fat and do my exercise regularly and I eat junk food as well. So why should I pay more tax because of obese people who don't care of their body or health. It is unfair.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1519.

      Most Primary School children are not buying Mcdonalds or Burger King either - it is the parents - so the timing of adverts is irrelevant. Parents need to learn not to bow to child pressure. I'm a parent it's not easy but it can be done.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1518.

      The focus on food is missing the point, which is basically lack of exercise, for most people.

      And why does the BBC keep on covering this story?

      And given how crap the NHS and medical profession are, I find it hard to take 'doctors' seriously, as a group of people.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1517.


      Actually it may lead to a more dangerous outcome in younger kids nowadays, especially with the vitriol I see on these boards. More kids feeling that they have put on a few pounds then stop eating entirely.

      Anorexia is no joke, and the modern culture of fostering 'thin' 'thinner' and 'thinnest' is to blame for this where even a slight hint you're fat brings panic.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1516.

      1476.sam2samsam I completley agree with you. Overweight people are full of excuses.. About 1% have a real medical condition for being overweight the other 99% are just lazy..


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