Medics back hefty fizzy drinks taxes

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WIGAN doctors have backed national calls to tax fizzy drinks heavily.

Earlier this week, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents nearly every doctor in the UK, said ballooning waistlines already constituted a “huge crisis”, prompting to call on the Government to heavily tax all fizzy drinks.

Now Wigan health chiefs have backed the calls, claiming that the drinks are partly responsible for obesity rates in the borough.

Dr Kate Ardern, Wigan’s executive director of public health, said: “Across Wigan borough we have seen a rise in obesity that closely links to the increase in the amount of sugary drinks we consume.

“These drinks have no nutritional value at all but do contribute to weight gain as well as tooth decay.

“Any measures that make it easier for families and individuals to switch to healthier, low sugar drinks is likely to help everyone to become slimmer. Cutting down by just one can of sugary pop per day could have the same effect as walking or jogging a whole mile.”

The idea of using price to influence people’s choices is not new and taxes have been used in other countries such as America, New Zealand and France.

And with childhood obesity a major issue for health chiefs in Wigan borough, it comes as no surprise that they are backing the calls by the AMRC.

The AMRC’s report said current measures were failing and called for unhealthy foods to be treated more like cigarettes.

Industry leaders said the report added little to the debate on obesity.

The UK is one of the most obese nations in the world with about a quarter of adults classed as obese. That figure is predicted to double by 2050 - a third of primary school leavers are already overweight.

Doctors fear that a rising tide of obesity will pose dire health consequences for the nation.

The AMRC is a “united front” of the medical profession from surgeons to GPs and psychiatrists to paediatricians. It says its doctors are seeing the consequences of unhealthy diets every day and that it has never come together on such an issue before.

AMRC recommendations include:

l A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm

l Further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20 per cent.

l A reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres

l A £100m budget for interventions such as weight-loss surgery

l No junk food or vending machines in hospitals, where all food must meet the same nutritional standards as in schools

l Food labels to include calorie information for children

However, the British Soft Drinks Association rejected the idea that a tax on soft drinks, which it said contributed “just two per cent” of the total calories in the average diet, would address a problem “which is about overall diet and levels of activity”.