Leading doctor’s ‘sugar tax’ warning over obesity epidemic

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BEING OVERWEIGHT risks becoming normal, the country’s top doctor has warned.

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said larger mannequins in shops and size inflation of labels are among concerns, with two in three adults and one in three children now overweight.

In her annual report on the state of the nation’s health, she said a sugar tax may be necessary in the long run, with too many people and parents ignoring the problem of obesity.

She said she had long been concerned that the fashion industry presented being underweight as an “ideal” aim.

“Yet I am increasingly concerned that society may be normalising overweight,” she added.

“For example: larger mannequins are being introduced into clothes shops; ‘size inflation’ means that clothes with the same size label have become larger in recent decades; and news stories about overweight often feature pictures of severely obese people, which are unrepresentative of the majority of the overweight population.”

Dame Sally said many people did not recognise they had a weight problem, with data showing that 52 per cent of overweight men and 30 per cent of overweight women think they are about the right weight. Three quarters of parents of overweight children do not recognise their child is heavier than they should be.

She said adults and children consumed more sugar than they should, with a third of added sugar in the diet of 11 to 18-year-olds coming from fizzy drinks, smoothies, and fruit juices with added sugar.

“This is an alarming proportion; soft drinks are easily avoidable sources of added sugar,” she said.

She reiterated her view that a “sugar tax” may be needed in contrast to Ministers who have asked manufacturers and food giants to sign up to voluntary codes with the aim of avoiding legislation.

In her report, Dame Sally said: “If voluntary efforts fail to deliver then we, as a society, may need to consider the public health benefits that could be derived from regulation such as a ‘sugar tax’.”

She also used her study to call for more research into a potential link between deafness and blindness and dementia, while she said England should explore the impact of minimum unit pricing for alcohol if Scotland introduced it.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This report is yet another reminder that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the numbers on the scales.”

Prof Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “Overweight and obesity costs the NHS over £5 billion each year and is entirely preventable.”

Dame Sally pointed out that besides its other effects, alcohol was highly calorific and she was concerned that Budget changes to alcohol duty could encourage more drinking.

“Once I discovered the calories in alcohol, as well as the bad side effects, I drank much less,” she said in an interview yesterday.

“When I used to sit in my clinic, mothers would bring their children in drinking vast amounts of orange juice and they thought this was healthy.

“Well one glass of orange juice in the day is but actually orange juice, and other juices, have a lot of sugar, natural sugar, and many calories. People need to think about this.”