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 1715.

      BMI is a out-dated means of measuring body mass. The index was written just after WW2 whilst the country was still on rations.
      If these facts are to be used they need to be up to date and show the real figures (literally).
      I am 29 and 6ft 7" tall, I play rugby and go to the gym 4/5 times a week. I weight 20st 9lb. The BMI considers me to be extremley obese and I am far from it.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1714.

      @chris (1701) it is physically IMPOSSIBLE to put on weight unless you are taking in the extra calories for your body to convert into fat. Eat less, do more! It's as simple as that, end off!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1713.

      Instead of taxing soft drinks why, how about we amend National Insurance payments based on individuals BMI so you pay a 5% premium if you are obese. I'd love to see which politicians would be brave enough to confront 25% of the population with some home thruths rather than potray them as victims.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1712.

      Kittty, although I am very fit and you clearly are not, I am not one of those advocating that you should pay for your treatment if you ever need one. Regarding STDs, the ones who have a lot of fun, can take extra-precautions with condoms and perhaps more discerning sexual activity. As overweight people should try to regain a reasonable level of fitness. Giving up on both is rather uncaring.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1711.

      LOL so my last comment is under scrutiny! so..
      1) Eat local and seasonal fruit and veg, it's cheaper
      2) Exercise more, this doesn't mean a gym, walk, run, ride, workout vids
      3) review 'sports' drinks
      4) NHS to treat sports injuries as if it was just another drunken injury ;)
      To the one calling me a hypercondriac- It was fracture of the Lisfrancs, a year walking on it has caused more damage

    • rate this

      Comment number 1710.

      Is sugar addictive?

      Perhaps, but it pales in comparison to the addiction to tax

    • rate this

      Comment number 1709.

      Corporations are greedy because they dare to make profits?
      What lies have been spread?
      Are you really telling me that it isn't fat people's fault they're fat, but the food companies? Have they been force fed Big Macs by them or something?
      It's called personal responsibility, but it's something you lot on the left don't seem to like.
      Please give one example of taking from poor to rich.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1708.

      1687 JaceF

      If someone chooses a self-destructive lifestyle, knowing the likely consequences, and then whinges about it and blames everyone else but themselves, how do you want me to react? "There, there it's not your fault,have a bag of crisps, you'll feel better"
      It's that attitude that has got them there in the first place.
      Time to call a spade a spade before we all drown in a sea of lard.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1707.

      Government and 'experts', please stop meddling in matters which should be the province of individual choice. By all means publicise the risks, but then back off. If people choose to make themselves ill and die early, let them get on with it. The gene pool will be all the stronger for their demise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1706.

      Just do it!

      Following a reduction in consumption the other benefit will be a reduction in all that packing that takes a millenium to degrade.

      There is no downside to this!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1705.

      Dodgy ingredients matter little compared to amount we eat. A lot of us are fat because we eat too much not because it contains the wrong things.

      If you want to cut out calories cut out quantity.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1704.

      "Lifestyle choices" which increase demand on the NHS, already struggling to cope with cuts & an ageing population increasingly need to be justified. I don't know what the cost/benefits of obesity are, but at the moment it seems that there are few disincentives like taxes on fags & booze. Perhaps increased taxes could be used to give obese people vouchers for cheaper gyms.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1703.

      People are free to make their own choices but there should be no expectation that the NHS will fix you. The NHS should not be fixing peoples choices - you choose to eat badly and exercise minimally then you should live with the consequence without hospital care.

      Instead of taxing more maybe less tax will give people more to spend on the dearer healthier choices ?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1702.

      5 Hours ago
      Let those who... they should be free to choose otherwise.

      You obviously don't understand... Before these parasites potentially die, they become ill (heart disease & diabetes) and then expect FREE treatment from the TAXPAYER funded overstretched NHS.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1701.

      not every obese person is fat by choice...people such as RICHIE who say it should be paid out of the obese person's pocket is flatly wrong... he obviously has no sympathy for those who struggle... i hope people like him end up gaining weight out of control and see what its like to end up like that despite your efforts to avoid it... say what you will, but some try and try and still end up big

    • rate this

      Comment number 1700.


      I think I see the logic in where the other person is coming from. Should people who have acquired STDs be charged more for NHS care as well? Given it's a lifestyle choice in what they do?

      I asked this earlier but based on being crippled with a sports injury, should they be charged more for NHS care? If so, then welcome to the US system of medical bills.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1699.

      Instead of taxing things that make you fat why not tax fat. By linking income tax to BMI with a multiplier (say 1% extra tax for every 10% overweight) being overweight could be a personal choice that is paid for. After all, a basic human right must be to live your life as you choose as long as it is within the law.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1698.

      Taxing bad food makes no sense unless you make the Tax fiscally neutral and subsidise healthy food which is probably far too complex to be workable.
      Beyond that lets stop looking for scape goats for these "victims of obesity" and identify that it is they the individual who is responsible for their condition primarily because they eat too much and exercise too little.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1697.

      1675. Bob Roberts
      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.
      How many times am i going to see this written on HYS?
      You do realise overweight people pay taxes too right?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1696.

      Who cares if your fat,gay,white,black...really. Do you really want the nanny state predicting your every move and action. You were born free now go out there and tell the PC vote grabbers to back off. Screw them..and their constant so called concern. It is between you and your M.D. Live for you, be kind,considorate and have the brains to figure out when your being played by poloticians.


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