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 1655.

      why have you shown a photo of Jabba the Hutt at the top of this story?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1654.

      The biggest problem is the supermarkets. Walk around any Tesco in a deprived area and be inundated with offers (e.g. BOGOF) on "expandable" foods, that is foods that when people buy more they eat more. Usually sweet and high fat foods with a high calorie to weight ratio. The sort of food humans have evolved crave and businesses are taking advantage of.

    • Comment number 1653.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1652.

      As usual - one size fits all - do we need to tax Diet drinks? Are they part of the problem ?

    • Comment number 1651.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1650.

      Putting the price up will not work. The price of cigarettes is exorbitant, yet the people we would consider the poorest in this country, are still the biggest smokers.
      The underclasses always manage to find the money for the things they enjoy; it just means that something else has to be sacrificed, like washing & feeding their kids properly.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1649.

      Would this be a suggestion to the same government who wanted to encourage people to take up sports by imposing taxes on sports supplements?

      I'm sick of everything being solved by taxes. Reduce taxes on good stuff rather than endlessly taxing the things some of us can enjoy in moderation. Otherwise all you'll do is make people fat and poor.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1648.

      Has anyone considered the merits of a system proposed by a Tory MP a few years ago whereby people would be charged to use some NHS services if they consistently ignore the advice of medical professionals concerning their unhealthy lifestyles?

      It's something I'd support in principle because it doesn't punish the many for the irresponsibility of the few.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1647.

      Completely Agree with those who say cost! It is the cost of healthy food - expensive, in comparison to the cheap unhealthy stuff you can buy that encourages people to make the wrong decisions. However I use the word 'encourage' because fundamentally it is your choice what you eat. Money should be spent to lower the cost of healthy food.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1646.

      A high proportion of the workforce in the UK work in a office environments, where we sit at a desk for 8-10 hours a day, after which we drive home or sit on a train. Very few then go out and participate in any form of exercise.

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

    • rate this

      Comment number 1645.

      3 Minutes ago
      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.


      Are the above also effects of consuming fizzy sugary drinks?

    • rate this

      Comment number 1644.

      Paul: a food assistance EBT card???? What on earth is that? Large amount of King Crab legs? A bit lost on that one...
      Sanbag: last time I checked one can't choose whether is gay or black. Whereas you could work toward changing from fat to slim....
      P.S. Some of the comments are indeed a bit too rude, but the obese folks who are actually proud of it, well...that's a bit too much really...

    • rate this

      Comment number 1643.

      @1459.CURTAINS 2012 - "People don't need to waste money on gyms."

      Totally agree. Gym was just an example. More, safer places to exercise. Easier to cycle without getting run over. Easier to jog without fear or traffic fumes. More parks.

      And yes, gyms. Some people need to structure and support to exercise.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1642.

      In that sense, does the underweight pay less for these foods? Or will putting on some pounds to gain a healthy weight be even harder now? We need people educated in nutrition to actually intervene in their lifestyles to check progress and make sure they are achieving their goals for both over and underweight. Will also help if they have a condition which affects weight (such as hypothyroidism)

    • rate this

      Comment number 1641.


      It's not always a lifestyle choice though. I'm fat, yet I walk everywhere, eat healthily... yes as crazy as it sounds I don't eat junk food except on rare occasions. I love pure apple juice over fizzy drinks (granted pure fruit juice does have the same sugar content as fizzy so eh)

      And I can't lose weight. People have said if I was thin I'd be classed as anorexic.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1640.

      If they really want help the health of people ,the only fair way is to means test things that are bad for you ! Why should they only help the less well off people !!! .Rich people can buy as much as they like !!!!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1639.

      Diets high in sugar and fat were known to be bad decades ago, so was smoking, and a raft of other chemicals that we ingest.

      Yet why are manufacturers allowed to make unimaginable profits whilst knowing full well what the outcome will be? And governments seem to allow a small minority (usually employed by these org's) to have a disproportionate voice in arguing against these facts (by propaganda)!

    • rate this

      Comment number 1638.

      There are local elections in May. What a good time to teach this nanny state dictatorship government a lesson for greedily taxing us into oblivion.

    • rate this

      Comment number 1637.

      Yet again the stupidity of the minority ruining it for everyone else. Why should we have to pay because of these idiots who think it is healthy to live off junk food?
      You wouldn't ban cars just because people break the speed limit, why should this be different?

    • Comment number 1636.

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


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