According to the survey, by Nestle Rowntree, people in Britain ate a record pounds 4.4bn last year, a rise of 5 per cent. Each person spent an average of pounds 76 a year on sweets, equivalent to 1/2 lb a week.
The best-selling product is KitKat, sales of which totalled more than pounds 210m - pounds 60m more than Mars bars and indicating a consumption rate, Nestle Rowntree says, of 47 every second. The survey also found that nearly half of the pounds 580m worth of boxes of chocolates sold each year are bought in the 12 weeks before Christmas.
According to Action and Information on Sugars (AIS) - an alliance of nutritionists, dentists and child health specialists - confectionery firms are employing increasingly aggressive marketing techniques to counteract the effect of national health targets which seek to reduce consumption of fats and sugars.
Polly Munday - a leading member of AIS and senior dental health education officer for the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area in south London - described the findings as 'very depressing'. She said: 'The advertising has got much more aggressive in the last few years. I think we need to look at that, especially advertising for children during their prime viewing hours.'
More controls on advertising aimed at children, especially for foods with a high sugar or fat content, have been backed by the British Dental Association, the Medical Research Council, the National Consumer Council and the Health Education Authority. An advertising ban during children's programmes was called for 16 years ago by the Annan Report on the future of broadcasting but resisted by the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the ground that pounds 15m revenue would be lost.
However, a report last year by the National Food Alliance showed that growing consumption of snacks and confectionery among children is leading to greater obesity, with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, arthritis and diabetes in later life. The report quoted US evidence that children aged six and below were 'essentially defenceless' against advertising.
AIS has been campaigning to get sweets removed from supermarket checkout counters, where parents are most vulnerable to pestering from children. Ms Munday said Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose had removed them but Boots and Marks & Spencer had been 'less helpful'.
She added: 'The problem now is much more one of obesity than teeth problems. These products have no nutritional content at all except sugar. They are empty calories. They won't make you grow or make you fit, they won't make you or mend you. All they do is give you energy far in excess of what you are using up and that is why you put on weight.'