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 1675.

      With over £1tn public sector debt, you're right, free gyms and swimming is an excellent idea. Taxpayers pay yet more to try and sort these people's problems. Well, it's time we stopped. Let these people die aged 45 if that's what they want.
      Are you for real? THIS nanny state govt? Where were you between 1997-2010? This was a recommendation from doctors, not govt policy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1674.


      Nope, it's just that whilst I walk everywhere it doesn't necessarily mean I use up all the calories. However I still eat healthily.... it's just a zero sum thing.. what weight I have doesn't shift at all. I don't put more on, yet I don't lose it either. /shrug.

      Still charging NHS extra for obesity is dumb. Next we'll have sports tax.. I can see it coming.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1673.

      im a man of size by choice.. taxing me for cola isnt going to stop me from buying cola, it will only drive me to vote against this gov.. i'll just make home made lemonade for a pleasant beverage..why cant the gov just accept that we'll buy what we choose? convince us otherwise with your adverts yes, but tax us for our choices? NO! those who want to lose weight can easily do it on whats available!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1672.

      "A £100m budget for interventions such as weight-loss surgery."
      A waste of taxpayers money. No weight-loss surgery should be given by a Doctor, it should be paid for out of the obese persons pocket.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1671.

      if someone is around the 30 stone range, they will probably be on benefits, so whats the use of the NHS charging them? where would they get the extra money from? they do not charge drug addicts, alcoholics or smokers, but then, if they have to have scanners made for these extreme heavies, well, thats quite costly, plus the jumalanch, and why should someone incur an injury having to lift them?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1670.

      @1627.Giles - "everyone gets a £1 off voucher. Applicable to Fruit and Vegetables only."

      F&V are not the only healthy foods. In fact, a lot of fruit is actually bad for you. Sugars.


      @1631 hibevis - "Education is not the answer. Parenting is the answer."

      I think you'll find that good parenting IS actually education.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1669.

      @kitty (1641) what you are saying contradicts the laws of physics, eat less + do more = weight loss. You are obviously disregarding one or more factors in that equation.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1668.

      I don't understand the focus on food. I grew up eating sweets and crisps every day, had fried foods most nights and was never overweight. I only became overweight once I stopped being active due to an office job and started drinking. The larger issue is surely that people young and old aren't active enough anymore? Why for e.g. is there nothing in the UK which encourages people to go to the gym?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1667.

      1646.Dude - "......Rather than just blaming fatty food/ sugary drinks we need to have a deeper look at the lifestyle we are leading."

      People need to recognise it is about the balance of calories comsumed vs those burnt - but everyone knows that & the obese (apart from a very tiny % minority) need to stop drinking/easting lots of sugar if their lifestyle doesn't inolve exercise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1666.

      If gymnasia were nearer, people would not have to expend so much energy going to get their exercise.

    • Comment number 1665.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1664.

      I don't have enough time to spend a few hours cooking meals from scratch in the evening, I live alone, so if i buy ingredients most go to waste, I struggle to find time to do exercise, it's very expensive to do the things i enjoy if i do find time.

      Will adding 10p on to a bottle of coke help me live a healthier lifestyle?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1663.

      Just about anything can be shown to be bad for you if consumed in excess. - That last word is the key.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1662.

      "Yet again the stupidity of the minority ruining it for everyone else."

      Yes but the minority is not obese people. The minority who ruin it for everyone else are the corporate government who are hand in glove with the criminal corporate food industry promoting rubbish with lies and profiting nicely.

      Attack the right target: greedy, lying corporations, not other people who have been lied to.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1661.

      1641 Kitty.

      Please learn to read for comprehension.I didn't say ALL obese people I said 'the vast majority'. That does allow for the possibility that 'It's not always a lifestyle choice'.
      Race and sexuality are NEVER a lifestyle choice. To conflate obesity with these is disingenuous.
      I would have an expert check your diet for hidden calories. People are rarely as healthy as they think they are.

    • Comment number 1660.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1659.

      Endless prescriptions from the medical profession on the one hand - keen as ever to increase longevity. Nothing about how we can possibly afford to pay the health & care bills for everyone living longer on the other.

      The simple fact is, unpalatable as it may be, we need people to die for the NHS and care system to have any hope of coping.

      For adults, bring back smoking, let people drink,etc.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1658.

      Canned soft drinks and bottled water are already taxed at 20% VAT

    • rate this

      Comment number 1657.

      To conflate obesity with race or sexuality is a disgrace. The vast majority of obese people are obese because of a lifestyle choice. Since when was someones skin colour or sexuality a lifestyle choice?


      I was likening the comments towards fat people as being similar to racial/homophobic abuse

    • rate this

      Comment number 1656.

      Is this the UK's answer to everything these days. Lets just TAX it that will stop people buying it. We will soon not be able to afford anything in this country as David Cameron reminds me of Robin Hood except he robs from the poor to benefit the rich. They will be the only ones to afford to eat.


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