LONDON — Leading British doctors will urge the UK government Monday to impose a "fat tax" on junk food and introduce cigarette-style warnings to children about the dangers of poor diets and products high in fat, salt or sugar.
Dr. Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said Sunday the consumption of unhealthy food should be seen to be just as damaging as smoking or binge drinking.
"Thirty years ago, it would have been inconceivable to have imagined a ban on smoking in the workplace or in pubs, and yet that is what we have now," the Guardian newspaper quoted Stephenson as saying. " Are we willing to be just as courageous in respect of obesity? I would suggest that we should be."
The doctors are also demanding a tough government action plan to stop fast-food chains opening outlets near schools, restrict the advertising of products high in fat, salt or sugar, and limit sponsorship of sports events by fast-food companies such as McDonald's.
Professor Dinesh Bhugra, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "Some types of processed foods are harmful to the physical, and consequently mental, health of individuals.
"There ought to be serious consideration given to banning advertising of certain foods and certain processed foods and to levying tax on fatty, unhealthy foods."
He said students need to be told more about the effects of bad diet and he urged municipal councils to impose "fast-food free zones" around schools and hospitals.
The doctors' push for more stringent government controls over the food industry flies in the face of current Conservative government policy.
British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley last week said: "No Government campaign or programme can force people to make healthy choices. We want to free business from the burden of regulation, but we don't want, in doing that, to sacrifice public health outcomes."
Lansley is expected to announce Monday the abolition of Britain's Food Standards Agency, which has been fighting a running battle with the country's food industry over product labelling and health warnings.
The agency's duties will be split between the department of the environment, food and rural affairs and the department of health.
Labour government set up the FSA four years ago to respond to public fears and protect consumers after the mad cow disease crisis.