Medical professionals call for a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks to halt obesity


A new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' (AoMRC) Obesity Steering Group, made up of surgeons, paediatricians and GPs, sets out ten recommendations for healthcare professionals, local and national government, industry and schools to tackle the nation's obesity crisis.

Among its recommendations, it suggests introducing a tax on sugary soft drinks of at least 20 per cent, initially for one year. The report says the duty on sugary drinks would be an experimental measure and examine what extent it impacts upon consumption patterns.

The potential annual yield of £1billion from introducing the tax could be used to help fund weight management programmes, including early intervention.

According to the AoMRC, the UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of nine. Based on current trends, half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020.

Another proposal set out in the report is to make the existing food and nutrient based standards in England mandatory for free schools and academies, along with a new statutory requirement on all schools to provide food skills, including cooking and growing, from the 2014/15 academic year.

The Obesity Steering Group also calls for the early years workforce to deliver basic food preparation skills to new parents and encourage breastfeeding, as well as a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm.

The report marks the start of a campaign to encourage expert individuals and organisations to take each of the recommendations forward.

Professor Terence Stephenson, a paediatrician and chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said, ‘As health professionals, we see it (obesity) 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.’

Commenting on the research, Paul Lindley, who earlier this month launched the Averting a Recipe for Disaster campaign, said, ‘The report acts as a powerful message to Government from the medical professional that the time is up for delaying action on diet-related disease. It puts forward some valid suggested solutions, yet the reality is that this is a multi-faceted issue that goes further than obesity, requiring collaborative and co-ordinated solutions from industry, government, educators, individuals and the media.'

Mr Lindley, the founder and chief executive of baby food company Ella’s Kitchen has called on the food industry and British political parties to create a food manifesto for the under-fives to address the ‘devastating impact of diet-related disease.’

He added, ‘A sugar tax will not solve the problem, in of itself. Tax and regulation should be at least considered as part of this mix, however if these measures are to be used, they must be seen as realistic threats that will be put into action and be part of a wider co-ordinated strategy.’
 
‘The report's recommendations around nutritional advice for new mothers is something that the Averting a Recipe for Disaster campaign supports strongly. This focus on improving nutrition for children in their earliest years is absolutely vital. The babies of today are the parents of tomorrow and we have a small window of opportunity to shape their food preferences and habits - that opportunity must be taken now.’

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