ST Helens Council will call on the Government to pay money from the sugar tax fund directly to local authorities to help tackle obesity.

The sugar tax, which came into force in April, charges a levy to manufacturers on the high-sugar drinks they sell, with the income being invested in sports in primary schools.

At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, a motion was passed to call on Whitehall to reconsider allocating sugar levy funding to local authorities.

The motion also proposed to ask ministers to step up action to tackle food poverty.

Proposing the motion, Cllr Gill Neal, cabinet member for better health, highlighted “stark” figures that suggest 71 per cent of the population in St Helens are overweight or obese.

“The key thing that concerns me however is that 38 per cent of our children in Year Six are overweight or obese,” the Labour councillor said.

“And this is mostly due to economic deprivation.”

The motion also proposed to push for the Government to implement all of the Food Revolution actions – brought forward by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – by the end of this Parliament.

Cllr Neal said one of the main reasons why obesity is so common is due to the hidden sugar levels in processed food.

The Windle councillor also said children are “bombarded” daily with advertising.

Cllr Neal said the council need to prioritise food education and healthy food in schools and pointed to the direct links between food poverty and obesity.

Cllr Marlene Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care, said this was a “scandal”.

“It’s shocking that in this century, in the sixth richest country in the world we have food poverty,” she said.

The Labour councillor said obesity is becoming an “epidemic” which is becoming “acceptable”.

She said local authorities should be given sugar levy funds so that it can use the funds to address obesity throughout the town.

Cllr Quinn said: “We would address the whole family, the whole town, not just in school time and not individual schools getting more than others.

“The money would be spent on the people, regardless of where they live, be it an affluent area or a poor area, if they require the support.

“There are many initiatives in this town that have been promoted and paid for and supported by this council and we would urge the Government to reconsider and put that money back into the local authority to best address the whole need of its whole community of fighting this epidemic of obesity.”

Over the past few months, the council’s Public Health department has been running a series of workshops that brings together health professionals to explore ways to achieve a healthy weight.

In April 2016, the council became the first local authority in the country to sign up to a Healthy Weight Declaration which aimed to promote healthy weight and improve the wellbeing of the population.

With hot food takeaways being a main factor around obesity, the council has introduced several polices and initiatives to control the issue.

One policy, which was introduced in 2011, stops new takeaways from opening within 400m of a school or college.

However, Cllr Richard McCauley, ward councillor for Thatto Heath, said “unscrupulous capitalists” have gotten around that by claiming to be restaurants.

The motion was carried following a vote.