A senior Labour MP has said the Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour is “not welcome” in his constituency at a time of record obesity levels among children.

Coca-Cola Christmas truck not welcome in Leicester.

Coca-Cola Christmas truck not welcome in Leicester. Image by Coca-Cola/PA Wire

Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, said the promotion of sugary drinks is the “wrong thing” in a city where a third of children have tooth decay.

The Coca-Cola truck tour is scheduled to stop at 46 locations in the UK as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Holidays Are Coming advert.

Mr Vaz said: “The Coca-Cola truck is not welcome in Leicester, and this national tour to promote sugar-laden drinks is ill-judged and unwise at a time of record diabetes and obesity levels.”

Coca-Cola has said drinks will not be handed out to children under the age of 12, but Mr Vaz, who has Type 2 diabetes, said the tour will still have a damaging effect.

“Coca-Cola have said the truck will not be giving their products to younger children, but this is clearly unenforceable,” he said.

“This tour is not the ‘real thing’, it is the wrong thing.”

Campaign group Action on Sugar joined Mr Vaz in criticising the drinks company, saying there needs to be tighter marketing regulations to prevent Coca-Cola associating itself with the Christmas holiday.

Jennifer Rosborough, campaign manager and nutritionist at Action on Sugar, said: “Given the obesity and Type 2 diabetes crisis, not to mention tooth decay, that we are currently facing in the UK, Coca-Cola should be taking a more responsible approach by cutting the sugar in their drinks rather than blatantly marketing their products.

“One can of regular Coca-Cola contains nine teaspoons of added sugar (35g), which is equivalent to 140% of the draft WHO guidelines for added sugar intake.

“This is an example why there needs to be stricter marketing regulations; people associate Christmas with Coca-Cola and it’s unnecessary.”

The truck is due to visit Leicester on December 17, before completing the tour in London on December 23.

A Coca-Cola Great Britain spokesman said: “The Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour provides a moment of fun for the family in the build-up to Christmas and we’ve had a positive response from many people in Leicester to the news that it will stop there this year.

“People will have the opportunity to see the truck up close, have their photograph taken with it and enjoy a small (150ml) can of any of the four Coca-Cola variants we make, which include Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero, our no-sugar options.

“We have a policy not to market our products to under-12s, and will therefore not be providing drinks to under-12s unless their parent or guardian is happy for us to do so.”

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “A blanket statement saying that Coca-Cola are still the baddies of yesteryear, I believe, is not appropriate.

“We recognise that Coca-Cola have made advances in making their range of drinks healthier. A company that is making crucial efforts at this time deserves a little encouragement.”

The British Soft Drinks Association declined to comment.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The evidence shows that this type of advertising increases children’s preference for and consumption of sugary drinks, which are linked to tooth decay and too many calories leading to obesity.

“Worryingly, children and teenagers are having three times more sugar than the maximum recommended amount and the biggest source is sugary drinks.

“There is no place for sugary drinks in a child’s daily diet – lower fat milks and water are ideal but swapping to no added sugar, diet and sugar-free alternatives is fine.”

(Press Association)