Drinking one can of a sugary soft drink a day increases the risk of dying from heart attack by a third, health campaigners warn.
Heart health experts have launched a hard-hitting poster campaign to challenge the damage they claim is caused by the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
The campaign called GULP – Give Up Loving Pop – has been created by the Health Equalities Group, based in Liverpool, which is supported by the NHS and local authorities.
GULP also highlights links between the drinks and tooth decay and type 2 diabetes.
Sugar has been labelled the ‘new tobacco’ by some health experts, who warn it is fuelling a national obesity epidemic, particularly among children.
A number of campaigning organisations are supporting the idea of a tax on sugary drinks both to reduce consumption and raise money to support health and sports schemes for youngsters.
Recent research by the University of Liverpool claimed that added a 20p tax to the drinks would save thousands of children from diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
They argued such a levy would prevent 1,100 cases of cancer in London alone, as well as reducing the number of people who develop diabetes by 6,300 and cut the number of people suffering from coronary heart disease or strokes by 4,300.
Based on these figures, it seems tens of thousands of cases of disease could be prevented if the 20p per litre tax was adopted across the entire UK.
Over 60 organisations – including Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, British Dietetic Association, CitizensUK, Faculty of Public Health, Netmums and Unison – have already backed the campaign for a sugary drinks tax.
Supporters also include Rosie Boycott, who was appointed by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to run the London Food Board.
Soft drinks are the largest single source of sugar for children aged 4-10 years and teenagers.
A tax of 20p a litre would add around 7p to the price of a standard can of Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
Director of the GULP campaign, Robin Ireland, said: ‘Few people fully realise the harm that sugary drinks can do to your health.
‘As well as damaging your teeth, overconsumption of these drinks can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes and poor heart health.
‘Given the levels of overweight and obesity across the UK, in particular amongst youngsters, unless we start to take action on sugary drinks we will be storing up problems for future generations.
‘As sugary drinks manufacturers seem less-than-willing to inform the public about the health harms associated with overconsumption of their products we’ve launched our Gulp campaign to get the message across and take the fight to the manufacturers.’
He added: ‘With 40per cent of young people reportedly drinking three or more glasses of sugary drinks per day it is vital that we a send a message to Government about the damage that is being done to the health of our children and young people and the need for education on healthier alternatives.’
However, the director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, Gavin Partington, accused the campaign of ‘scaremongering.’
He said: ‘If these campaigners were genuinely interested in public health they would be seeking to educate all consumers about the importance of a balanced diet and physical exercise rather than erroneously targeting one product category and making claims not supported by the evidence.’