Should fizzy drinks be taxed?

01 March 2013

The UK is one of the most obese nations in the world, but would a tax on fizzy drinks and banning junk food ads help tackle the problem?

The health profession certainly thinks so. Recently the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents nearly every doctor in the UK, said the country is in the grip of an "obesity crisis" and outlined a package of measures it thinks will remedy the problem, including a heavy tax on soft drinks.

In a report the academy said current measures to tackle ballooning waistlines are failing. Unhealthy foods should be treated more like cigarettes, doctors feel.

Recent research from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that the number of people in England being admitted to hospital because of obesity has tripled in five years, with hospitals reporting 11,740 inpatient admissions with a primary diagnosis of obesity in 2011/12.

What does the academy recommend?

In an 'action plan' for tackling obesity, the academy has set out a number of proposals:

Trialling a 20 per cent tax in all sugary soft drinks

Banning the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 21:00

A ban on new fast food outlets being located close to schools and colleges

Injecting £100 million over the next three years in increasing the provision of weight management services across the country

Making food-based standards mandatory in all UK hospitals

Introducing calories information for children and teenagers onto 'traffic light' food labelling – especially in fast food outlets

'Public health crisis'

Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said: "As health professionals, we see it across all our disciplines – from the GP's surgery to the operating table and everything in between.  So it is no exaggeration to say that it is the biggest public health crisis facing the UK today.   Yet too often, vested interests dub it too complex to tackle.

"It's now time to stop making excuses and instead begin forging alliances, trying new innovations to see what works and acting quickly to tackle obesity head on - otherwise the majority of this country's health budget could be consumed by an entirely avoidable condition."

But not everyone agrees. Terry Jones, from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), called the report a "damp squib".

He told the BBC: "The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has presented as its recommendations, a collection of unbalanced ideas apparently heavily influenced by single issue pressure groups.

"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 recommendations mark the start of a concerted campaign on the behalf of doctors to drive these recommendations forward. Obesity, clearly, is not a problem that is going to go away. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has presented a set of bold ideas and direct action it feels will help combat an obesity crisis once and for all. Will they work?

Posted by Edward Bartel

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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