fizzyMore than 60 leading medical bodies, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, are calling for a 20p-per-litre levy on soft drinks to be included in this year's Budget.

The recommendation comes from food and farming charity Sustain who say it would raise £1bn a year in duty to fund free fruit and meals in schools to improve children's health.

People in the UK consume more than 5 million litres of sugary soft drinks a year, with each half-pint containing an average of nine lumps of sugar and Sustain say a tax could both save lives and make a major impact on child obesity.

Mike Rayner, of the department of public health at Oxford University and chairman of Sustain, said: "Just as we use fiscal measures to discourage drinking and smoking and help prevent people from dying early, there is now lots of evidence that the same approach would work for food.

"This modest proposal goes some way towards making the price of food reflect its true costs to society. Our obesity epidemic causes debilitating illness, life threatening diseases and misery for millions of people. It is high time government did something effective about this problem."

However, the British Soft Drink Association (BSDA) says companies are already playing their part in the fight against obesity with 61% of soft drinks now containing no added sugar. Director general Gavin Partington added that "soft drinks companies have lead the way in committing to further, voluntary action as part of the government's Responsibility Deal calorie-reduction pledge".

The Department of Health have suggested that with the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has falling by 9% while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15% over the past 10 years, funding to improve child health could be better spent elsewhere.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham disagrees and says it is clear that a voluntary approach is not working.

"Labour is consulting on whether new limits on sugar, salt and fat content in food aimed at children would be a better way forward," he added. "This would help parents protect their children from foods which contain excessive levels of sugar, salt and fat in a way that a tax wouldn't."

Posted 30/1/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com