Doctors call for crackdown on junk food marketing

Brands such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola should be banned from sponsoring sports events such as the Olympics, according to some of the UK’s leading doctors.

An umbrella organisation of doctors’ bodies, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges (AoMRC), argues the government’s current strategy for tackling obesity has “failed to have a significant impact”.

The organisation claims that obesity is the ‘single greatest public health threat’ in the UK. Proposals include a ban on sports sponsorship by brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, an end to the use of celebrities and cartoon characters to market unhealthy food and drinks to children and a “fat tax” that would see customers buying foods high in fat and salt pay more.

A quarter of women (24%) and a fifth of men (22%) in the UK are classed as obese, according to the AoMRC. It predicts that the rising obesity crisis will cost the NHS £10bn a year by 2050.

A three-month evidence-gathering inquiry has been launched by the organisation that will collect research and strategies to prevent or reduce obesity in five key areas including advertising and sponsorship.

Healthcare professionals, local authorities, education providers, charities, campaign groups and the public will be invited to give evidence.

The first report will be published later this year and will offer a series of recommendations for how the medical profession, individuals, organisations and government can ensure “an effective and coherent approach” to reducing obesity levels.

The steering group will be chaired by Professor Terence Stephenson, Vice-Chair of the AoMRC and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Stephenson says: “Our starting point is the collective desire to ensure the healthcare profession is doing all it can to detect, treat, manage - and ultimately prevent - obesity.

“It is unprecedented that the medical royal colleges and faculties have come together on such a high profile public health issue. But we’ve done so because we recognise the huge crisis waiting to happen and believe that current strategies to reduce obesity are failing to have a significant impact. Speaking with one voice we have a more of a chance of preventing generation after generation falling victim to obesity-related illnesses and death.”

McDonald’s and Coca-cola spokespeople both say that corporate sponsorship’s are essential to the Olympics.

Coca-Cola anticipates that 75% of the drinks it sells at the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 will be water, juice or sugar-free.

Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the Food and Drink Federation, says that a balanced healthy lifestyle message is “highlighted by food and sports partnerships, not undermined by it”.

She adds that a wide range of interventions are required to tackle obesity in the UK.

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