Soft drinks manufacturers would be forced to reduce their sugar content under a parliamentary move to prevent more children and adults developing the life-shortening disease diabetes.
A House of Commons Bill, drafted by the senior Labour backbencher Keith Vaz, would compel Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Britvic and other makers to cut sugar levels by 4 per cent and to fund new research into preventing diabetes, which has more than doubled in 15 years and now affects one in 20 UK adults. Many soft drinks are stuffed with sugar – 330ml cans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi contain the equivalent of eight teaspoonfuls – and campaigners say their popularity is making Britons fatter.
One in four primary school children are now overweight or obese and obesity and high sugar consumption are major causes of the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes.
Sales of soft drinks are rising year after year, up 5.8 per cent in 2010. On average, people drink two cans of fizzy drinks, dilutable squashes and fruit-based still drinks every day.
Diet, low-calorie and no-added-sugar versions now account for 60 per cent of the market – double the proportion 20 years ago – but the whole market is much bigger than it was.
Mr Vaz's 10-minute Diabetes Prevention (Soft Drinks) Bill will be debated by MPs on 18 April. Although it is very unlikely to become law, Mr Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a diabetes sufferer himself, hopes it will generate debate and increase pressure on the Government and manufacturers to make their drinks healthier.
Mr Vaz said: "Reducing the sugar content of soft drinks by 4 per cent was a target set by the Food Standards Agency, to be achieved voluntarily in partnership with the industry. This has not been done. Many drinks companies have not even signed up, including Coca-Cola. Obesity has continued to increase."