Fizzy drinks should be taxed, fast food outlets near schools limited and new parents given specific advice on how to feed their children properly to help tackle spiralling levels of obesity, an influential medical group has demanded.
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), which represents nearly every one of Britain's 220,000 doctors, is pressing ministers, councils, the NHS and food organisations for action on what it calls "the greatest public health crisis affecting the UK", The Guardian said.
In a report, the AMRC said doctors from across the medical profession are united in their concerns, and criticised the present and previous governments for insufficient and ineffective attempts to tackle the problem. One in four adults in the UK is obese, figures say, a number expected to double by 2050.
Doctors fear the obesity crisis is becoming "unresolvable", and are calling for society "as a whole" to act before it becomes irreversible. The report also drew parallels with the campaign against smoking, saying: "Just as the challenges of persuading society that the deeply embedded habit of smoking was against its better interests, changing how we eat is now a matter of necessity." The need for action is urgent to break the cycle of "generation after generation falling victim to obesity-related illnesses and death", it added.
Following a year-long inquiry the AMRC has devised a list of 10 recommendations to end the UK being "the fat man of Europe". These include:
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
They also include: all schools to serve healthy food in their kitchens; a ban on junk food an vending machines in hospital premises and hospitals to apply the same nutritional standards for patients as those in state schools in England; £300 million 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; and food labels to include calorie information for children.
Professor Terence Stephenson, the chairman of the AMRC, told The Guardian the report was not a full solution to obesity, but outlines what needs to be done now before the NHS can no longer cope. Prof Stephenson attacked fizzy drinks, saying a tax on them was justified as they are "the ultimate bad food". And he told the BBC that while there was no "silver bullet" for tackling obesity, the eating culture needs changing to make it easier for people to make healthy decisions.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents manufacturers, dismissed the report as adding "little to an important debate". Terry Jones, from the FDF, 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 Department of Health acknowledged that the threat posed by obesity in both adults and children was one of today's most important public health challenges. A spokesman said: "This wide-ranging report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges recognises, as did our own recent Call to Action on Obesity, that there is no single answer to the obesity problem. It is up to everyone - government, industry, health professionals and voluntary groups, as well as individuals themselves - to work jointly to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. There are already a large number of initiatives under way to help do this, including the Government's Responsibility Deal with industry; the Change4Life programme; NHS health checks; and the Child Measurement Programme in schools. We are substantially increasing the health visitor workforce whose role will include advice to mothers on nutritionally balanced meals and how to prepare them."