Doctors back soda tax

DOCTORS BELIEVE that a tax on sugary drinks will help to tackle the obesity crisis.
  • Academy of Medical Royal Colleges also calls for better standards of hospital food


In an extensive report, published today February 18th, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) also called for an improvement in the standards of hospital food and a ban on new fast food outlets being built near schools.


Other recommendations include a ban on advertising of foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm and for existing mandatory food- and nutrient-based standards in England to be statutory in free schools and academies – an issue that Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, has spoken out on.


Advertisers have criticised the AoMRC for “grandstanding” the issue of obesity, while the soft drinks industry has rejected the idea of a tax on drinks given that the issue is “about overall diet and levels of activity”


The report, “Measuring up: the medical profession’s prescription for the nation’s obesity crisis”, follows a six-month inquiry by a steering group comprising representatives from 20 of the Royal Medical Colleges and Faculties.

The report presents an action plan for future campaigning activity, setting out 10 recommendations for healthcare professionals, local and national government, industry and schools which it believes will help tackle the nation’s obesity crisis.


It was particularly damning of hospital food. The reports concluded: “In the NHS we have begun to realise that the environment in which we treat our patients can sometimes be as critical as the way in which we treat them. It is perplexing therefore to walk into a hospital canteen […] to find that the food provision
is unhealthy and fails to meet the same requirements that we expect, for example, in schools. If the NHS is to send out a message that it takes the obesity crisis seriously, then it needs at the very least to avoid providing the same obesogenic environment as the high street and make sure that patients and staff alike are offered healthy and nutritious meal choices.”


Professor Terence Stephenson, a paediatrician and chair of the Academy, said of the obesity crisis: “Too often, vested interests dub [obesity] 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.”


Those representing food and drink companies suggested that the report added very little to the debate and was simply a chance to “demonise” certain foods and outlets.


“We share the recognition that obesity is a major public health priority but reject the idea that a tax on soft drinks, which contribute just 2% of the total calories in the average diet, is going to address a problem which is about overall diet and levels of activity,” said British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington.


A survey by the British Heart Foundation, also published today, found that one in 10 adults had not taken exercise for more than a decade because they were too busy working. Some 40% had not broken into a run in the past year.

  • See February’s Footprint, out today, for a report on soft drink regulation