MPs have called on the Government to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks and ban the advertising of unhealthy foods during family TV shows.
A report from the Commons health committee said the Government must not “take the easy option of relying on health education campaigns” and promoting exercise to solve the UK’s obesity crisis.
Instead, they said something “far more ambitious” was needed, calling for Jamie Oliver-style graphic warnings on the side of fizzy drinks saying how many spoonfuls of sugar a single serving contains.
Prime Minister David Cameron is known not to favour a sugar tax but the committee said a 20 per cent levy on full sugar soft drinks should be introduced, with all the money raised spent on preventing childhood obesity.
Other recommendations include a ban on unhealthy food advertising before the 9pm watershed during TV programmes enjoyed by families, such as the X Factor.
Chair of the health committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP, said: “We believe that if the Government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible.
“We believe that a sugary drinks tax should be included in these measures with all proceeds clearly directed to improving our children’s health.”
A coalition of almost 20 groups has also been formed to demand a sugar tax and further action. Members include the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health.
Kawther Hashem, nutritionist and researcher at the campaign group Action on Sugar, said: “Parents and children are currently drowning in a world full of aggressively marketed and promoted sugary foods and drinks.
“It is high time the Government took responsibility for the health of the nation and set sugar reduction targets and rules on all forms marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks.”
The committee said buy-one-get-one-free and other deals on unhealthy foods in supermarkets should also face “strong controls”, with an outright ban on placing sweets and other less healthy foods at the ends of aisles and checkouts.
New guidelines must also be drawn up on what constitutes a healthy school packed lunch, with teachers able to guide parents who continue to give their children unhealthy foods.
The use of cartoon characters and celebrities in children’s advertising should also face tighter restrictions, while rules that claim a breakfast cereal which is 22.5 per cent sugar is not a high sugar food must be changed, the report said.
While the food industry should be invited to join voluntary “reformulation” schemes to drive down the amount of sugar or fat in their foods, it must be made clear a failure to comply would lead to enforced regulation, the MPs added.
The committee also called for smaller portion sizes, saying they are becoming “larger and larger”, for example the introduction of “bottomless cups” in restaurants.
New figures last week showed a third of 10 and 11-year-olds in England are overweight or obese, although obesity among younger children is falling.