24 October 2015

GPs Back Levy on Sugary Drinks in Battle to Curb Obesity

GPs are backing calls for a levy on popular sugary drinks, ahead of today’s Health Select Committee where public health chiefs will be asked to explain why a report making the case for a ‘sugar tax’ has not been made available to MPs.

The Royal College of General Practitioners is calling on the Government to release the findings of the report prepared by Public Health England for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

It wants Ministers to take urgent action to halt the use of sugar – or the ‘hidden enemy’ – that is a major contributor to obesity-related health problems and is costing the health service around £5bn a year.

It claims that increasing the cost of popular soft drinks as a first step would have a dramatic effect on people’s lifestyle choices, as demonstrated by the notable fall in the number of smokers once prices were increased.

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “We are extremely concerned that the Public Health England report has not already been released to MPs, especially when a major inquiry into childhood obesity is now underway.

“We urge the Health Select Committee to push for its release so that MPs are fully informed about the devastating effects of sugar of people’s health, particularly children and young people, and can take the decisions necessary to reverse this damage.

“We would also argue that the report should be made more widely available to the public to heighten awareness of how serious this problem has become.

“People are fully aware of the health risks if they choose to smoke a cigarette but sugar is more of a hidden enemy as it is so often concealed in drinks such as fruit juice and cereals, which are presented as healthy options.

“GPs are not killjoys, but there is absolutely no place in our diets – particularly children’s – for sugary drinks.”

The College is already supporting TV Chef and Honorary Fellow of the RCGP Jamie Oliver in calling for a tax in sugary drinks. Last year, it wrote to Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies urging her to establish a COBRA-style taskforce to tackle childhood obesity.

The RCGP has also published a position paper on nutrition, calling for better guidelines and more support for GPs in caring for the growing numbers of people who are suffering from malnutrition and obesity.

More than 3 million people across the UK are estimated to be at risk of malnutrition – more than 90% of whom live in the community. Many are also vulnerable elderly, with evidence showing that up to 40% of patients on admission to a nursing home are at risk of malnutrition.

Almost 60% of the UK population are now overweight or obese and an increasing number of patients are undergoing bariatric surgery. A third of young people are entering adulthood with a pre-existing weight problems – overweight and obesity now affects 28% of UK children aged 2-10 years and 34% of children aged 11-15 years old. 

The RCGP paper recognises that urgent policy measures are needed to tackle these growing trends in the NHS – a problem that was highlighted in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.

According to the paper, Improved guidelines and enhanced training would support GPs and their teams in:

  • Ensuring that conversations are sensitively and positively framed so they are acceptable to patients (including behavioural change and motivational interviewing techniques)
  • Understanding the range of available treatments (for example, NICE Guidance changes to the recommendations for bariatric surgery in newly diagnosed diabetes)
  • Nutritional support options (such as access to ‘food boosting’ advice for patients and guidance on when to start and stop oral nutritional supplements)

Dr Baker said: “Our patients are increasingly suffering from multiple, long-term conditions where both malnutrition and obesity are key risk factors.

“We know that simply telling people to change their lifestyles in order to benefit their health doesn’t always work, and is often counter-productive. This paper highlights that more support for GPs around nutrition – including how to best approach what are often sensitive conversations with patients – are a sensible way forward.

“It is essential that GPs and our teams are aware of all the options open to us when delivering care to patients who are malnourished, obese, or both. 

“GPs are already working hard to promote healthy living in our patients – and the College has been leading the way to raise awareness of the role of nutrition in leading a healthy life.

“We now need Clinical Commissioning Groups  to recognise this, and engage with us to develop more and better-resourced services in the community, where our patients and, in the long run, society will really feel the benefit.”

Further information

As part of the RCGP Nutrition Clinical Priority programme, a set of resources has been developed to support improved nutritional care and training which are available here.

These include the popular Ten Top Tips guides on Raising the Topic of Weight and on Managing patients after bariatric surgery in primary care. There is also a link to the Managing Adult Malnutrition in the Community pathway. 

There are a variety of teaching options ranging from introductory eLearning sessions, to fully accredited specialist level training via World Obesity

For further information about the RCGP Nutrition Group (which continues under the name GPING – GPs Interested in Nutrition Group) contact Dr Rachel Pryke at rpryke@nhs.net.

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.