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MPs have called on the government to bring in regulation to stop supermarket discounts on unhealthy food and to force suppliers to pass on the impact of the sugar levy to consumers.

In a report following its inquiry into childhood obesity, the health select committee attacked ministers for ditching previous measures lined up under David Cameron’s government, calling the Childhood Obesity Plan which came out last summer “vague” and ineffective.

The committee said it was “extremely disappointed” that the plan did not include regulation to tackle discounting and price promotion of junk food, which was recommended by Public Health England as the most important measure needed to fight against obesity.

“We urge the government to follow the evidence-based advice from their chief public health advisers and to regulate to further reduce the impact of deep discounting and price promotions on sales of unhealthy food,” said the report.

The committee made the call despite hearing evidence from PHE that retailers were already moving away from “multibuy” deals, which encourage people to increase consumption, and towards competing on a single price.

PHE told the inquiry the amount of food sold on promotion had dropped since the obesity plan came in from 40% to 37%. The BRC claimed that by the end of 2016 the figure was just 27%.

But the committee said while it welcomed the moves, regulation was needed to rebalance the supermarket offer in favour of more healthy food.

“Retailers who act responsibly on discounting and promotions should not be put at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not,” said the report.

It commended the government for introducing the sugar levy but said its impact on consumers would be weakened if retailers and suppliers simply decided to absorb the extra costs and not pass on higher prices.

“Failure to do so would leave consumers of sugar-free products subsidising higher-sugar drinks and would also reduce the effectiveness of the levy in helping to change choices,” said the report. It also called for the government to reverse its decision not to include milk-based drinks under the tax.

Other recommendations included a crackdown on HFSS advertising and a call for the government to implement portion caps on certain foods if the ongoing talks on voluntary reformulation failed to work.

Action on Sugar said the report was more evidence that the government should turn to regulation rather than rely on a voluntary approach.

“It has nearly been eight months since Theresa May pledged to look after the sick and poor as part of her commitment to tackle health inequalities,” said Action on Sugar chairman Graham MacGregor.

“The government must mandate the sugar targets if the voluntary sugar reduction programme is not supported by the branded food industry, as requested by leading supermarkets and the BRC. The message is loud and clear – Theresa May must now put health inequality first on her list of burning injustices that need to be enforced without further delay.”