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 1515.

      Reduced tax and farming susidies on natural foods like fruit, veg and responsibly sourced meat and fish are the way forward, combined with a huge publicity campaign backed by the Government explaining why sugar is so bad for you.
      The question is why wont our Government do something about it???

    • rate this

      Comment number 1514.

      Fizzy drinks are already subject to VAT, as are fruit juices, fruit squashes and even mineral water, all at the same rate. However, anything cake-based is classed as a "staple" and therefore zero-rated. The VAT rules on what is a luxury and what is an essential are so inconsistent with a healthy diet it's bizarre. A cake smothered in chocolate is essential, but fruit dipped in yogurt is a luxury!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1513.

      Tax and regulation, tax and regulation. You can't drive the Big Boys out like this; as soon as people stop buying their products they will simply switch to some other tactic in order to encourage sales. Smoking began to drop away, but then the ad-men made it look cool and teenagers took it all up again. You gotta sock the psychology into oblivion; that is what sells the product.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1512.

      Mike from Brum: I very much doubt any sane person would want to have anything to do with your life, let alone your beer belly.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1511.

      if people are obese and they work, well, that is their problem, when people on benefits are obese, then it becomes the tax payers problem, and it makes you wonder if these fatties get paid extra money to pile on the pounds, i feel sick when i see really big people, especially the black leggings brigade, they don't even bother to hide the layers of sloppy fat surrounding them!! disgusting

    • rate this

      Comment number 1510.

      funny as that sounds - no anyone can be thin if then choose, so they make the choice and get the result. They can even change their mind and lose weight!
      It's just being fat that can only be achieved with enough money for the junk fun and the ability for whatever reason (car + no job/office job) to do no exercise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1509.

      I think a thorough solution aimed at changing lifestyles will never happen given the short term, money obsessed views of successive governments.

      If this tax is to go ahead what will it be used for? Perhaps subsidising free swimming for children and the obese would be a start, or has it already been earmarked for further aid to India?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1508.

      I mainly drink cola because where I live the tap water is disgusting, smells faintly of chlorine or something, and even when filtered is still terrible.

      I can't afford Evian so what else is there to drink? I also drink coffee - they'll start taxing that next!!!

      I'm all for taxation to run the country but this "tax them till they stop doing it" attitude needs to be stopped right here, right now.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1507.

      Fizzy drinks are already taxed- 20%. They ae already too expensive for what they are , water and sugar. I have no faith in the medical profession if they think fizzy drinks are responsible for people looking like the chap in the photo.
      Too much fat is the reason from chips, pies, cakes and high carbohydrtaed food. Too little ruffage.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1506.

      Why not use the extra tax revenue an initiative such as this would raise to subsidise healthy foods? That way those who eat a balanced diet would see no change in the cost of their weekly shop

    • rate this

      Comment number 1505.

      Working in the community pharmaceutical setting I have been given a unique insight into this issue, and one thing I have always constantly encouraged is the application of exercise and reducing portions.

      It is really that simple, eating less calories and burning more during a day against how many a person eats will provide weight loss.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1504.

      People don't exercise as much, particularly as children, as they used to. When I was a kid i would go out and wander near and far for hours at a time, never got a lift to school. These days kids are ferried to school and between friends houses in the 4x4. Ironic that this safety first approach is causing such danger to their offspring in later life.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1503.

      Too little, far too late. We are dying in our thousands and only now do the health professionals shift their blame from their patient to the industries that have created the problem. Fatty, sugary, salty (convenience for whom, Government actuaries?) foods have been an even bigger killer than fags and the typical GP has for years berated their patients, ignoring the real culprits. Typical!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1502.

      More shepherding and telling people how to live their lives. When will it end?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1501.

      Pizza and chips can be purchased from a supermarket for around £2-£3 to feed a family of 4.

      Tonight I am making a healthy cottage pie. Beef mince £4, Potatoes and Veg £3, plus gravy etc. Total around £8

      Cheap fizzy drink 2 litre £0.30 Orange juice 2l £2-£3

      Its cost, not lack of education. Cut healthy food prices, not increase in cheap food costs to pay for obesity problems!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1500.

      Big surprise, people suggesting that the cost of living should increase. Seriously, have food prices not gone up enough?

      The government wonders why people are fat when unhealthy foods are cheaper and easier than healthy ones, and the price of going to the gym is hilariously high so as to not be an option for most people.

      Need a "silver bullet"? Subsidise healthy foods and open cheap/free gyms.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1499.

      When the corner shop is permanently having deals on cakes and chocolate (4 Snickers for £1 etc) but a bag of 5 apples is £2 - extra taxes will do nothing.

      And anyway why should we all pay more becouse some folk have no self contol.

    • Comment number 1498.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1497.

      Have most of you 'why should I be forced to pay for the lifestyle choices of someone else' brigade, actually thought about how this will end up.
      Privatisation thats where.
      Only then will health provision be 'fair' and paid based on the individuals lifestyle choices. Want that?
      Exactly, they should try living in the states and see how they like social engineered care

    • rate this

      Comment number 1496.

      Maybe we should now review our attitude to having to be so careful about drawing attention to someone's weight. For decades we have had to avoid the issue for fear of turning someone anorexic when in reality, obesity is a far greater problem. In addition, of course it makes sense to make fresh food and vegetables cheap.


    Page 12 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.