1. ITV Report

Doctors call for soft drink tax to tackle obesity

Rows of drinks in a supermarket. Photo: PA

Leading doctors have drawn up a raft of new measures which they say are needed to tackle Britain's growing obesity problem. They want urgent action, including a new tax on soft drinks, stricter rules on advertising and even nutrition lessons for parents. But not everyone agrees their approach is the right one. Nearly all Britain's doctors want an increase in the price of fizzy drinks of around 20% to help tackle obesity. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) is also calling for a crackdown on fast food restaurants close to schools.

Following a year-long inquiry the AMRC has devised a list of 10 recommendations to end the UK being "the fat man of Europe", including:

  • Taxes of 20% on sugary drinks for at least a year
  • Banning the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm
  • Councils having the power to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres
  • NHS staff to talk to overweight patients at every appointment about their eating and exercise habits
  • Advice for new parents on how to feed their children properly
  • All schools to serve healthy food in their kitchens
  • A ban on junk food an vending machines in hospital premises
  • £300m to be spent over the next three years on weight management programmes
  • More surgery for the severely obese, to help those at risk of dying
  • Food labels to include calorie information for children

Tamworth in Staffordshire has the highest proportion of overweight people in Britain. According to the National Obesity Observatory, more than 30% of its population are obese.

Birmingham University says more than 25% of Birmingham's population are obese, the third highest rate in the UK.

The geography of obesity in England has been revealed in a map compiled by the National Obesity Observatory. The chart, produced by the Department of Health funded organisation, shows darker areas where the prevalence of obesity is highest by council boundary.

Obesity has been mapped by local authority. Credit: National Obesity Oservatory

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter insisted that increasing the price of fizzy drinks is not the "silver bullet" to beat obesity.

We already have VAT on fizzy drinks and that applies to fizzy drinks and doesn't apply to other foods, so I don't think that's the silver bullet that's going to make the difference.

– Health minister Dr Dan Poulter

The director general of the British Soft Drinks Association rejected the proposal by doctors to increase the price of fizzy drinks in order to tackle obesity.

"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.

Over the last 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% while the incidence of obesity has been increasing, and 61% of soft drinks now contain no added sugar.

– GAVIN PARTINGTON, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE BRITISH SOFT DRINKS ASSOCIATION