A Children’s Food Bill, which calls for a ban on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, is to be presented to Parliament today by Debra Shipley MP.

The bill, which was developed by food and farming lobby group Sustain, is supported by 114 national organisations, including the British Dental Association, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and the Food Commission.

Sustain, which campaigns for better food and farming, said the bill aims to improve children’s current and future health and prevent food-related ill health, such as childhood obesity and diseases linked to children’s junk food diets.

It requires the Food Standards Agency to specify criteria for unhealthy and healthy foods, taking into account nutritional content and other criteria such as the presence of additives. Based on these criteria, the bill calls for marketing to children of unhealthy foods to be prohibited and requires the government to publish an annual plan to promote healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, to children.

The bill will also address the types of foods available to children at school. It includes regulations which will set compositional standards for school meals, improve food education skills and prevent unhealthy foods from being sold in school vending machines.

“As huge profits are at stake, calls for the junk food industry to act voluntarily are simply naïve. Our coalition of 114 national organisations recognises that statutory measures to improve children’s diets are urgently needed,” said Charlie Powell, project officer at Sustain.

In response to the bill, Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said Sustain’s proposal to divide foods into ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ categories is “simplistic and out of date”.

“All foods can play a part in a healthy balanced diet, and demonising individual foods is pointless. Government and industry must work together to produce a generation of informed consumers who can make informed choices about the foods they eat and the lifestyles they adopt. Positive, non-prescriptive messages about how to create a balanced diet and a more active lifestyle is the way to help consumers,” Paterson said.

“The food industry is ready and willing to do more to help ensure that marketing is responsible. FDF is clear that we need tight, workable advertising codes and we are working with Ofcom in its review. However restrictive action rarely delivers positive results. Advertising bans in Sweden and Quebec for example, saw no effect on children’s levels of obesity,” Paterson added.