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 1635.

      its thanks to the drain of so many people on benefits and housing benefit that we are losing a lot of services, its very easy for someone to get fat and have lots of fat kids, and think that it is their god given right to have these benefits, it isn't, but since the 80's the goverments have not made any attempt to stop this attitude, its not right these people get more money then some workers do

    • rate this

      Comment number 1634.

      1622 JaceF

      "some of the comments are out of line, replace the word fat with gay or black and you would quickly see them for what they are."


      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?

    • Comment number 1633.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1632.

      Here we are again proposing another hair brained change and interfering with peoples lives, as long as consumers are fully informed about the risks in what they eat and drink then they should be allowed to get on with it
      Another step in the "nanny" state

    • rate this

      Comment number 1631.

      Come on this is nonsense. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week and run 20-24k 3 times a week so that I can eat as much junk food as I please. Unless you give me my gym membership for free I should not be punnished for having a healthy balanced lifestyle. Education is not the answer. parenting is the answer. Parents need to say no to junk for their kids or at least teach them about a balanced diet.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1630.

      I agree with #1115 - but I think the answer lies partly with the correct assumption that doctors are in the higher paid / better pension end of society.
      "let them eat cake", do I hear?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1629.

      Maybe, instead of thinking up new taxes to lumber onto the already over-burdened citizens, the Govt should work harder/smarter at making those companies selling goods and services to UK consumers pay the tax they should be paying?

      Perhaps then we wouldn't have revenue shortfalls?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1628.

      @1493.Mike from Brum

      Wasn't trying to dictate your life, never said I backed the proposal, just asked for people to take responsibility for the consquences of their desicions. You did, well done your in a very small minority. (And I'm not just talking about fat people.)

    • rate this

      Comment number 1627.

      The money made from taxing unhealthy food needs to be made available for discounting healthy food via a voucher system. You register online at or something similar , if a million people register and monthly income is £1 million, everyone gets a £1 off voucher. Applicable to Fruit and Vegetables only.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1626.

      some of the comments are out of line, replace the word fat with gay or black and you would quickly see them for what they are.

      I'm all for putting a tax on Gok Wan and KFC too.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1625.

      8 Minutes ago
      1522.CURTAINS 2012
      I can't afford Evian so what else is there to drink?

      Evian spelt backwards is Naive.......doh. Tap water ?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1624.

      How about reintroducing school sports and even getting some of the playing fields back?
      It was rare to see an overweight kid in my day and I'm only going back 30 years.

      It's always the same, either it is here first or it is the US first but we both get the same Big Brother policies no matter the government (Bloomberg NY)

      Leave us alone you control freaks!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1623.

      Instead of an ad hoc tax here & there, have a Cost to the Community Tax instead of VAT, charging the costs of the bad aspects of goods to their sellers, to pass onto the users. The users could carry on and thus pay for their indulgence; or reduce consumption and reduce costs to the community and the tax would fall. Fizzy drinks have at least triple bads: obesity; dental caries; litter.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1622.

      some of the comments are out of line, replace the word fat with gay or black and you would quickly see them for what they are. Also any smokers having a dig at overweight people have to go have a word with themselves come off the cancer sticks and see what life is like without an appetite suppressant. It's clear from page 49 of the report they have no mandate to be lobbying like this.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1621.

      I'm 33 and I consume around 4000 calories a day. I eat whatever I like and have fizzy drinks and treats too. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week and cycle most days and I have the body of an Adonis. It is not the fizzy drinks that's the problem, it's the lazy humans with no self control

    • rate this

      Comment number 1620.

      @1607 "People are not burning calories like they used to, sat around on phones, tablets & video games."

      I do all of those things quite a bit and I still find time and motivation to exercise. The blame does not lie with electrical products, it lies with a person's laziness, plain and simple. I could be just as lazy sat reading a book every day and gain the same weight if I didn't exercise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1619.

      In the US they have a food assistance EBT credit card. It can be used to buy large amounts of King Crab legs and other unprepared foods. It can be cashed in at an ATM . The truth is EBT recipiants eat better than the working middle class. Truly it should be for staples to feed your children a balanced diet.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1618.

      1599.Miles Hart - "Why not just tax fatties. Tax your BMI. £1,000 per BMI over 25?"

      Can I get a rebate? ;o)

    • rate this

      Comment number 1617.

      I find it strange that none of the recommendations includes education and the promotion of what's good but still tasty- the Hairy Bikers have actually made a great start and have set an excellent example.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1616.

      The answer is not going out to work to earn the money to buy the car to take you to work. Doing more work to pay for the gym membership and doing more work to pay fro the labour-saving devices so that you have the time to go to the gym.

      The answer is the dolly tub and the mangle.


    Page 6 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.