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- Cola-Cola's truck has been used in a nationwide tour over the past 5 years
- It stops at 44 locations and hands out free cans of fizzy cola to children
- But experts say more should be done to curb the consumption of sugary drinks
- Writing in a journal, they said it brings false gifts of bad teeth to youngsters
Coca-Cola's Christmas truck should be banned from Britain to help fight the nation's booming child obesity crisis, public health experts have warned.
The soft drinks giant has long used the bright red truck in adverts in the lead-up to Christmas.
For the last five years it has also been used in a nationwide tour, and last month stopped at 44 locations across the country where children could pose in front of the lorry and cans of fizzy cola were handed out.
Experts writing in the British Medical Journal said these marketing techniques promote sugary drinks at a time when the Government should be doing more to curb their use.
Professor John Ashton, former president of the Faculty of Public Health, and Robin Ireland, director of the Food Active campaign, said the adverts and marketing tour should be banned.
The experts wrote: 'At Christmas, Coca-Cola's marketing goes into overdrive as newspapers across the country regurgitate press releases for its Christmas truck tour, with advertorials promoting the truck as a Christmas tradition.
'And of course the truck is just the latest of Coca-Cola's campaigns to become a holiday brand and, indeed, to help brand Santa Claus himself.
'With figures showing that 33.8 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds in the north west are overweight or obese and that 33.4 per cent of five-years-olds have tooth decay, many public health departments have used their ever-squeezed budgets to launch campaigns about sugary drinks to try to help their communities reduce their consumption.
'So Coca-Cola's campaign was scarcely welcomed by local directors of public health, medical professionals, educationalists, or indeed members of the public.'
Five public health directors and members of the Faculty of Public Health, among others, signed a letter before Christmas saying: 'We can celebrate without allowing Coca-Cola to hijack Christmas by bringing false gifts of bad teeth and weight problems to our children.'
Yet the experts said their letter received no publicity.
They added: 'Should this form of advertising and marketing be banned, given the growing evidence of the effect that marketing of unhealthy food and drink has on children?
Figures show that 33.8 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds in the north west are overweight, they warned in the British Medical Journal
'We believe it should and will continue to push for national action from organisations such as Public Health England to stop similar campaigns next Christmas.'
Soft drinks are the biggest source of sugar in the diet of children and teenagers, according to the most recent data collected by Public Health England.
For 11-to 18-year-olds sweet drinks make up 38 per cent of sugar intake, and for younger children, aged four to ten, they contribute 27 per cent.
MORE FAT CHILDREN THAN EVER BEFORE
More children are overweight or obese than ever before, official figures revealed in November.
One in three 10 and 11 year olds - 34.2 per cent - were deemed to be overweight or obese in 2015-16.
Experts say that it is the highest percentage on record for children in year six is up on the 33.2 per cent recorded for the previous year.
Data from the National Child Measurement Programme for England shows obesity has risen in the last year, even for the youngest children being measured, aged four.
Even the chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has warned there is 'absolutely no reason' that children should drink sugar-laden liquids at all, and warned that cancer and heart disease may await those who do.
A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola Great Britain said: 'We had a really positive response from consumers to last year's Christmas truck tour.
'As part of the experience people could enjoy a small 150ml can of Coca-Cola Classic or one of our two no-sugar options - Diet Coke or Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.
'We operate the tour in line with our responsible marketing policy and we do not provide drinks to under-12s unless their parent or guardian is present and happy for us to do so.
'The Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour began in 2011.
'Looking at the data referenced by the BMJ opinion piece shows that the dental health of children in the North West has been consistently improving since 2008 and that childhood obesity is lower than at any time since 2010.
'It is therefore difficult to understand why they think banning the Coca-Cola Christmas truck will improve public health in the region.
'We will continue to take actions to help people to reduce the sugar they consume from our range of drinks, but the evidence suggests the current focus on sugar and soft drinks alone will not address the problem.'