Processed food containing high amounts of sugar and calories should be taxed under a new levy, campaigners say.

Campaign group Action on Sugar is calling for a ‘calorie tax’ in a move designed to reduce the number of people who develop type 2 diabetes.

They say the levy would also help to tackle childhood obesity and cancer by encouraging food manufacturers to produce more nutritional snacks.

Any new legislation would need to ensure that it does not apply to minimally processed foods with healthy fats. Foods such as butter, Greek yoghurt and avocado are all examples of healthy fats.

The 2018 sugar tax targets fizzy drink products containing total sugar content over 5g per 100ml. Last month Michelle Mitchell, the Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Research UK, said: “The Treasury’s own analysis showed the tax on sugary drinks took 90 million kg of sugar out of the nation’s diet on day one.”

Now health campaigners want more action, with further taxation spreading to sugary and energy dense foods, including ice creams, chocolate confectionary and spreads, milkshakes and puddings.

Katharine Jenner, campaign director for Action on Sugar, said: “Manufacturers are simply not doing enough. If the Government is really committed to helping the less well-off, they need to tackle the food industry and a feasibility study needs to be undertaken without delay.

“An ‘excess calorie levy’ would encourage manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their unhealthy foods and, most importantly, tackle the thousands who suffer the consequences of a poor diet, leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular medicine from Queen Mary University of London, is the chairman of Action on Sugar. He said: “The UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy has been remarkable and unique in that it allows for significant product reformulation by manufacturers in order to avoid paying the levy.

“This has already resulted in a much bigger reduction of sugar content of drinks in the UK than originally anticipated, as well as ring-fencing £340 million of income directly from manufacturers, not the public, to spend on improving children’s health.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said no plans have been made to introduce a calorie levy. The spokesman said: “We are already reducing exposure to sugary foods, and are now consulting on further plans to offer clear labelling and more support for individuals to manage their weight.”

Details concerning the soft drinks tax review are “still being worked out”, the spokesman said.

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