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 1735.

      Try comparing the cost of 'junk' food and the cost of eating fresh food (veg, fruits and unfrozen meat/fish)Thank goodness I dont live in Europe anymore. Tax the poorest thats Europe's policy!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1734.

      No additional taxes should be placed on carbonated beverages. If taxes were to be added, it would affect people who occasionally buy a carbonated beverage as a treat (e.g. once a fortnight or month) while people regularly buy these products will continue to purchase them, leaving them with less money to buy other products such as Lettuce.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1733.

      IN 2010
      62.8% of adults (aged 16 or over) were overweight or obese
      30.3% of children (aged 2-15) were overweight or obese
      26.1% of all adults and 16% of all children were obese

      Really are we going to allow schools to cut back on PE lessons?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1732.

      reduce the cost of healthy food, low income bracket families rely on frozen foods and unhealthy options as they are generally cheaper. Even making my own baby food in this country works out dearer than buying jars (full of rice fillers and other crap) based on me giving my baby varied options at mealtimes.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1731.

      Supermarket "Health Receipt". I was wondering if supermarkets could be compelled to add the health consequences of their purchases on their receipts, since supermarkets already link other information to barcode ID's. (Given that supermarkets are making a huge profit out of obesity it seems fair that they should contribute in this way).

    • rate this

      Comment number 1730.

      Again this is just another way to stop people taking responsibility for their own actions , parents should be teaching these kids to say no to burgers for every meals or coke for every drink , no chips after school , no pizza for lunch and more then every stop giving them money for sweets aal the time.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1729.

      @320 what counts as a lifestyle choice?

      This is just taking away all choice, we all know what is good and bad for us. It's not about cost in the slightest. We don't need expensive gym memberships or to buy expensive 'diet' food. Walking is free!!

      Take responsibility for your own actions. Junk food is as it's described...put junk in, get junk out. You've only got one body - look after it!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1728.

      Unfortunately it is no longer only classical sweet dishes and drinks which contain too much sugar, many so-called savoury courses are extremely sweet. Meat and fish sauces served today would be equally acceptable on icecream or with a fruit salad. It's a shame that we seem to need sugar in order to appreciate food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1727.

      "...junk food adverts banished until after the TV watershed, doctors say,..

      'Banished until after the TV watershed'?

      What language do these doctors speak?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1726.

      Altering prices will not have much of an effect on those who are addicted to such items and therefore either removing the substances making them addictive or educating the public might be more effective. What about putting health warnings on junk food, like what has already happened with cigarettes?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1725.

      I am struggling with the argument that if you are fat you are unhealthy and only eat bad food. I was a size 18 (at one point a size 24) for many years, swam 100 lengths a day and ate healthily. I was fitter and healthier than my size 8 friends. I am now a size 12 and probably am less fit and healthy! Fat does not always mean unhealthy.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1724.

      So I guess those of us with Selective Eating Disorders would get to enjoy less of our money if our diets fall into such categories?

      If only our minds worked as conveniently as the majority.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1723.

      I am a teenager attending uni and I work for McDonalds nearly every day. Every day I work for them I get a free meal, which means one less meal I have to provide myself when funds at uni are so low. But I attend a gym every day/week to keep myself in shape and healthy. I am still a size 8 and have been working for a fast food company 5 days a week for over 3 years!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1722.

      One way of tackling the obesity is to get rid of Michael Gove as Head of Eductation. He has done a fantastic job selling playing fields, reducing the alloted time for pe from 2 hours to 1 hour and removed all the funding for the School Sports Co Ordinators who did a fantastic job getting child playing sports and wanting to be active.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1721.

      Soon, we will have empty acres of land around schools, hospitals and health clubs due to the fact that tobacco, fatty food, fizzy drinks, alcohol etc cannot be sold anywhere near them. Instead of moving businesses that serve their communities, why not move the offending schools etc so they are not allowed to be near the shops selling this weeks bad for you item??

    • rate this

      Comment number 1720.

      Here we go again. Let's just ban everything and become more a nanny state. When are these idiots going to realise that the more you make a fuss and ban, the more people will dig their heels in, put two fingers up and do it anyway.
      If I want to eat rubbish, smoke or drink I will and so will anyone else, regardless what some numpty says.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1719.

      One problem is that healthy food is far more expensive than unhealthy food and gyms are too expensive for people to use. Everyone knows what you've got to do to lose weight and stay healthy but unfortunately it's peoples budget that rules.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1718.

      Good call to ban advertising and while you're at it, ban betting advertising too. We shouldn't "normalise" these kinds off things. I'm not suggesting we should ban the actual products (fizzy drinks, fast food, betting etc), they just shouldn't be promoted as normal everyday products for consumption.
      We have seen the issues that have arisen form smoking and drinking and have taken action at last..

    • rate this

      Comment number 1717.

      As someone who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, I need to have a high fat, high sugar, high calorie diet. Fizzy drinks are a quick, easy way to increase my calorie intake. I may be in a minority but it seems pretty unfair to penalise me and other suffers of CF for the supposed 'benefit' of others

    • rate this

      Comment number 1716.

      Totally agree that the tax on fizzy drinks should be increased as a deterant but why not use this to subsidise healthily alternatives ...WATER!

      Also I'd be concerned that in am attempt to reduce sugar intake people will head for "diet" alternatives. These off course contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which is equally if not more hazardous to health!


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