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It's Time To End The Coca-Cola Van Tour

When two weeks ago I wrote to the management of our biggest shopping centre in Liverpool asking them either to stop a visit from the Coca-Cola van or allow alongside it a health promotion display I did not know the furore I would cause or the amount of time I would spend discussing fizzy drinks. I regret neither.
Peter John Dickson via Getty Images

When two weeks ago I wrote to the management of our biggest shopping centre in Liverpool asking them either to stop a visit from the Coca-Cola van or allow alongside it a health promotion display I did not know the furore I would cause or the amount of time I would spend discussing fizzy drinks. I regret neither.

Interestingly, no-one has questioned the link between childhood obesity and fizzy drinks, nor have they questioned the extent of childhood obesity either in Liverpool or the UK widely. That is just as well because the links and the extent are scientifically proven. Let us be clear, having 30% of the 11 year old children of the UK obese and 5% seriously obese is a bad thing. Even if they lose weight the damage has been done with poor formation of their muscles and skeletal system. In practice that will, in most cases, also lead to them being obese in adulthood where no less than 60% of the adult populations is obese. If you think these figures are bad look at the USA where they are even worse.

The NHS spends £6.1 billion every year on dealing with obesity and that does not include the spending on a variety of illnesses, ailments and conditions that flow from it. The likelihood is that obese children will die earlier than their peers because of the health problems that their obesity will create.

The biggest objection that I have received is that somehow, I am interfering with an age-old celebration of Christmas. This just is not true. The Coke Van tours are now in just their 6th year. In the UK it takes 100 years to create a tradition! In my opinion the company does not go on these tours to wish people merry Christmas - they undertake them to sell more of their product and councils, who also have a public health duty, are sometimes using their PR departments to generate millions of free advertising for this company. These department are happily sending messages out that Christmas arrives with the Coke Van whilst their public health departments have tiny amounts of money to promote healthy eating and drinking.

The second objection has been that these should be decisions that are left to parents not politicians. I agree with this wholeheartedly but do parents have the information they need to make such choices? When I tell most parents that a normal glass of a fizzy drink contains the entire recommended amount of sugar for a day for a child they are amazed. That is why I call for proper labelling of products like these.

The last objection that people have made is that obesity is not caused by one product or indeed one company. Again, this is true. The biggest causes are poor drink with poor food and lack of exercise making up the other two components. Yes, I have real concerns about the amount of fast and unhealthy food being consumed. I have no particular objection to Coca-Cola but to all fizzy drinks. But they are the ones who are the world's biggest purveyor of the stuff. They are the ones who are going on this cynical product promotion at Christmas, so it is they who are in the firing lines.

People now look back at the issue of smoking and the way it was undertaken up to about 30 years ago. Now we take it for granted that there is no advertising of tobacco products or alcohol products. We take it for granted that we can go into a pub or restaurant and enjoy clean air. We know the strength of the alcohol that we consume so that we can judge how many to have and stay in safe guidelines. We all accept that those who drink too much and drive will be caught and punished. These are all things that 40 years ago would be un dreamt of.

I hope that in 20 years people will ask with the same incredulity, "You used to give children what to drink?" I hope that is the discussion that I have helped to promote as I stepped in the consumerist firing line and taken on this global giant!

I am not a Scrooge. I love Christmas. It is a time of goodwill, quiet and harmony in what, for many of us, are hectic lives. But that is no reason why the event should not also be a healthy one. So as Tiny Tim so wisely observed, "God bless us everyone!"