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 1695.

      4 Minutes ago
      "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.


      The pay-back period for weight loss surgery is very short, given the reduction in other interventions required.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1694.

      I presume the term obese is referring to BMI, which has no bearing on health... which makes all the proposals pointless. The Health Minister and the Academy would make better use of their time defining "Healthy" so we can have meaningful targets to aim for.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1693.

      Why oh why do we as a country continue to give rewards to those who don't take responsibility for themselves? Instead of tackling obesity in a negative way, why not reward those people who have looked after themselves and do not 'drain' the health service, the department for work and pensions, the NHS dentists etc. etc. etc

    • rate this

      Comment number 1692.

      "Rustlers burger, ready in 2 mins in a microwave is £1, a bag of grapes is £2 when on sale. It's ridiculous."

      Fruit isn't taxed, it's just surprisingly quite labour intensive to produce and the demand to have any fruit any time of year means much has to be imported. Junk is cheap because is it made from whatever. Food is relatively very cheap compared to a generation ago.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1691.

      1651 hiddenagenda
      "For many, their sex life is a choice! Time to dispel that myth that it isn`t."

      Someone else who needs to learn to read for comprehension. Sexuality is not a lifestyle choice. The way someone, of any sexuality, conducts their sex-life is a choice. The two are different. I said 'sexuality' not someone's sex-life.

      roleypoley - 10 minutes to prepare and cook a healthy stir-fry.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1690.

      Let's all go to the gym, and pay 20% VAT fir the privilege

    • rate this

      Comment number 1689.

      In evolutionary terms, the dim-witted who make poor, or no choices die out, often before procreating.
      If some fools need to be told that 1/2 kilo of sugar in blue liquid form is not good for them, do we really want them and their offspring clogging up the health and benefits system for generations?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1688.

      Here's a solution - why tax it, ban it all together.
      oh wait, that won't bring in the revenue. Oh, yeah, let's tax it.
      Between tax & ban, gov always go for tax - now we have lobbyists calling for taxes as well, talk about playing into their hands. Great system.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1687.

      dc1965 it seems to be you who is twisting what is being said if you are happy that people who are overweight should be on the receipt of abuse as vicious as homophobic and racial abuse that's your opinion, it stinks.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1686.

      I would have thought these no doubt sponsored doctors had better things to do than come up with suggestions like these

    • rate this

      Comment number 1685.

      gemthehawk: I could not agree more. A few years ago I spent 3 hours in A&E waiting to check-up on an injury and EVERY single paramedic or nurse were obese. National "HEALTH" Service indeed....
      Chris: "I'm a man of size by choice": now, that's a new one. I can now say I have really heard it all...

    • rate this

      Comment number 1684.

      @1668 "Why for e.g. is there nothing in the UK which encourages people to go to the gym?"

      Aha, I like this question, lets put it to the board, suggestions!

      'How do you encourage the unwilling to go to the gym to keep healthy without; A) Forcing them, B) Providing a financial benefit? (as that would be technically bribing and not achieving the goal)'

    • rate this

      Comment number 1683.

      1651. hiddenagenda
      Obesity is the NHS's biggest cost

      1650. Halfhybrid
      Putting the price of cigarettes up has reduced smoking.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1682.

      Taxing the drinks will pay for the extra burden the NHS will have to bear, when people suffering from obesity related illnesses come knocking at its door. Unfortunately there is no proof that all the taxes taken by the state on tobacco go to the NHS, as this would be a logical thing to do. So I am sceptical as to the where politicians might spend this money that should be ring-fenced for the NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1681.

      So 26% are obese which effectively means they want the 74% who aren't obese to pay these increases prices too. Why should I have to pay ever more taxes to fund those who WON'T not can't manage their own lifestyle? I say won';t because I appreciate there are many who have a medical condition which affects weight etc. So non obese get penalised by higher pricing!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1680.

      Its about time these principled people got out of our faces. Ban this, ban that...maybe people just like to live and maybe they can cope with dying younger (which btw saves the tax payers money). Perhaps they should get their own house in order first thinking problems - remember shipman anyone? remember stafford? remember allot? etc etc etc etc.Education fine, Facts fine. Decisions your own

    • rate this

      Comment number 1679.

      1530. Black_And_Proud
      Given that so many people die in hospitals, maybe we should ban hospitals.


      Look even closer... statistically 100% of people who die are people who were previously living...

      Lets just ban living...

    • rate this

      Comment number 1678.

      1653.gemthehawk 'I've had a foot injury for a year...It didn't show up on an Xray so they shrugged their shoulders! I've been treated like a hypercondriac who is silly to do sports.'

      They actually may be right as a sympton of hyperchondria is numbness of the feet......wouldn't show on an x-ray either...

      The NHS's attitude stinks when it comes to those who live healthier lifestyles

    • rate this

      Comment number 1677.

      This is awful. The goverment should be protecting our freedom, but it prefers to steal our freedoms one by one.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1676.

      I drink fizzy drinks, I also exercise lots and take care of my teeth.

      If the government want to make people eat healthy, then reduce tax on healthy foods.

      Rustlers burger, ready in 2 mins in a microwave is £1, a bag of grapes is £2 when on sale. It's ridiculous.


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