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Monday 22 September 2014

Firms rap GPs' fizzy drink tax call

Published 18/02/2013 | 06:26

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Fizzy drinks are 'the ultimate bad food', a leading medical group said

Manufacturers of fizzy drinks have hit back at a call by GPs for them to be taxed to help tackle spiralling levels of obesity.

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Following a report released by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), which expressed concerns about public health, the soft drinks industry has rejected the idea that a tax would help.

An industry body has said their products account for just 2% of calories in an average diet and it is what people consume overall which needs to be addressed. They also said sales of fizzy drinks have fallen during the last decade, but levels of obesity have risen.

Gavin Partington, director-general of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: "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.

"Soft drinks companies are also committing to further, voluntary action as part of the Government's Responsibility Deal Calorie Reduction Pledge. Don't forget that there already is a 20% tax on soft drinks, 10p out of every 60p can of drink already goes to the Government thanks to VAT. Putting up taxes even further will put pressure on people's purses at a time when they can ill afford it."

Following a year-long inquiry, the AMRC has devised a list of 10 recommendations to stop 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, and councils having the power to limit the number of fast-food outlets near schools and leisure centres.

AMRC chairman Professor Terence Stephenson told the BBC the eating culture needs to be changed to make it easier for people to make healthy decisions. He said: "I choose what I eat or whether I smoke. What people have told us is they want help to swim with the tide rather than against the current to make the healthy choice the easy one.

"Doctors are often accused of playing the nanny state. We didn't hear from a single person who said they liked being overweight - everybody we met wanted help from the state and society."

But Terry Jones, from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents manufacturers, said: "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."

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