FITNESS and health experts in South Tyneside are backing calls to tax fizzy drinks in a bid to combat rising obesity levels.
The proposal, from The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) which represents the majority of Britain’s 220,000 doctors, is part of a package of measures it is pressing ministers, councils, the NHS and food organisations to adopt.
In the borough, statistics reveal that almost a third of adults are deemed obese – and a staggering 38 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds are also considered overweight or obese – which in total costs the NHS £50m every year.
The AMRC has prepared a report which lists 10 recommendations,including imposing a tax of 20 per cent on sugary drinks for at least a year.
Alan Crabtree, who runs Momentum Fitness Training, believes a price hike would be a good idea and says even diet soft drinks can cause dietary problems.
The 28-year-old from Marsden, South Shields, said: “Fizzy drinks are worse than people think. High levels of phosphoric acids and the aspartame in them greatly harm the body’s balance and immune system.
“They are definitely over marketed, particularly towards children. Adults then drink them out of habit from their childhoods and it’s hard to break the cycle.
“The tax increase can only be viewed as a positive acknowledgement by the government that they need to make a change.”
The report is also calling for councils to limit fast food outlets near schools, ban advertising products high in sugar, fat and salt, before 9pm and for £300m to be spent over the next three years on weight management projects.
It is also suggesting that vending machines in hospitals should be scrapped.
Amanda Healy, director of public health for South Tyneside, believes the findings should be considered.
She said: “It is clinically proven that having a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet with food which is low in fat and sugar and exercising for 30 minutes five times a week, reduces the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes.
“Anything that promotes a healthy diet, including a tax on the consumption of sugary drinks and the other proposals of the Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges report, should be very seriously considered.”
She added: “As part of our approach, South Tyneside already offers a range of services available to help people to eat a healthy diet and encourage physical activities for adults and children.”
Chris Davies, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s head of facilities, said: “For two years’ running, our Trust has achieved a rating of ‘excellent’ in the food category of the Patient Environment Action Team assessments, which check various standards at healthcare sites in England.
“The majority of the food we serve to our patients is fresh produce, sourced in the main from local suppliers and cooked on site.
“All of our menus are approved by a nutritionist and they are coded to meet individual patient needs.
“When our cafes are open, there are always plenty of healthy alternatives available, such as water, fruit juice and fresh fruit.
“The vending machines provide a convenient source of food and drink for patients, staff and visitors at other times.”