Doctors demand action to combat obesity crisis

Fizzy drinks should be taxed, fast food outlets near schools limited, and new parents given advice on how to feed their children properly, a British medical watchdog has demanded in a move that will raise pressure on Irish food providers and health officials.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents nearly all of Britain’s 220,000 doctors, is pressing the British government, the NHS, and food groups for action on what it calls “the greatest public health crisis affecting the UK”, according to The Guardian.

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 attempts to tackle the problem.

One in four adults in the UK are obese, a number expected to double by 2050. One in four primary school children in Ireland are obese.

British doctors fear the crisis is becoming “unresolvable”, and have called on society 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.

After a year-long inquiry, the AMRC has devised 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 fat, sugar, and salt before 9pm;

*Giving councils 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;

*A ban on junk food and vending machines inhospital premises, and hospitals to apply the same nutritional standards for patients as those in state schools in England;

*£300m (€347m) to be spent over the next three years on weight management programmes;

*More surgery for the severely obese.

*Food labels to include calorie data for children.

Terence Stephenson, chair 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”.

He added that while there was no “silver bullet” for tackling obesity, the eating culture needs changing.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The Food and Drink Federation dismissed the report as adding “little to an important debate”.

Terry Jones, FDF communications director, said: “The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has presented as its recommendations a collection of unbalanced ideas apparently heavily influenced by single-issue pressure groups.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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