MPs call for new rules to reduce sugar in soft drinks

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.

Despite warnings not to consume too much sugar, 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 of our largest drinks companies have not even signed up to the agreement, including Coca-Cola. Obesity has continued to increase.

"I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a number of years ago. It came as a complete shock to me. Since then, I have taken a keen interest in how to prevent the type 2 diabetes epidemic sweeping Britain."

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children's Food Campaign run by the food and farming pressure group Sustain, said the Bill sent "a strong signal" to the soft drinks industry, which had sales of £13.9bn in 2010. "At the moment so many soft drinks are aimed at children and young people," he said.

Richard Laming, spokesman for the British Soft Drinks Association, said it was wrong to single out soft drinks, because they contributed only 3 per cent of the calories to the national diet.

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