CAMPAIGNERS are recruiting Oxford restaurants to become soldiers in the city's war on obesity, urging businesses to stop 'bombarding' customers with sugar-loaded snacks and drinks.

A collaborative push will see health-conscious restaurants, cafes, businesses, schools and public spaces sign up to commitments to help residents curb sugar cravings, with one in five children in Oxford obese by the time they leave primary school.

The Sugar Smart Oxford scheme, backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, hopes to cut sugar-induced conditions such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Supporters will agree to at least one of six pledges, from making 80 per cent of their drinks menu sugar-free to simply making tap water more accessible.

Hannah Fenton, manager of Good Food Oxford, which is leading the campaign, said: "There is so much sugar around and it's so hard to resist, when we are absolutely bombarded with it all the time.

"People don't want to be surrounded by sugar.

"Restaurants have a responsibility to keep up with the times."

Businesses in the city are being asked to:

• Promote free tap water

• Make healthier options more visible

•Traffic light sticker system on menus to flag up healthier and unhealthier options

• Make 80 per cent of drinks sugar-free

• Display sugar content information on vending machines

• Introduce a 10 pence 'sugar tax' on sugary drinks, to go to a children's health fund

Hundreds of people completed Sugar Smart Oxford's survey between November and January, with 92 per cent of 665 respondents stating they were concerned about health effects of sugar.

The majority of people either admitted they consumed more than the recommended daily sugar allowance, or were not sure.

Miss Fenton said during research, one person told her he had reversed his diabetes by cutting out processed sugar.

She added: "People are taking action, but it takes willpower.

"When you're out and about you want to be able to make healthy choices, and for it not to be an effort to seek those out.

"Some people said at their local pub or cafe there's not even the choice of having a zero-sugar drink - that needs to change."

Obesity rates in Oxford are also creeping up. In 2015-16, 43,231 GP-registered patients in Oxfordshire were obese, up from 42,996 in 2014-15.

In 2016-17, the percentage of obese children in Oxford of reception age rose to 8.8 per cent, up from 8 per cent the previous year.

During that period, 20.2 per cent of Year 6 children in Oxford were obese, up from 19.2 per cent.

Miss Fenton said it was the 'right time' to rally for change in Oxford, especially because the government's national sugar levy is looming.

From April 6, soft drink manufacturers must pay levies on sugary drinks, driving up the selling price.

Businesses already signed up to Sugar Smart Oxford include The King's Centre in Osney Mead, Oxford Town Hall Cafe, and Turl Street Kitchen in the city centre.

Charis Sharpe, general manager of the latter, stressed it was not about guilt-tripping customers but making people aware of what they are consuming.

She said: "We can't make choices for people but putting alternative options in front of them is clearly a good thing.

"Our ethos has always been 'local, seasonal', which obviously goes in some way towards healthy eating anyway.

"A lot of our customers are conscious of what they are eating, so this was an easy one to get behind."

The restaurant already had a tap water station but has flagged up sugar-free options on its drinks menu, and introduced a fruit bowl as an alternative to desserts.

Sue Edridge, business development manager at The King’s Centre, encouraged other businesses to get on board.

She said: “We understand how important it is to provide a healthy environment for our team and guests at our events and meetings space.

"We already have water readily available for clients and staff. Our chef is looking at adapting his dessert recipes to reduce sugar content.

"Hidden sugars are a big issue and as a large venue we believe it is important to do more to provide visitors and staff with ways to lead healthier lives."

The project is supported by Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Community Dental Services Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Oxfordshire Workplace Wellbeing Network.

Hilary Hibbert-Biles, cabinet member for public health at the county council, said: "Although many people are aware of the effects of sugar and are trying to take steps to eat a healthier diet, the food environment does not always encourage these healthy choices.

"Sugar Smart pledges make it easier to make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Oxford was the 13th city to embrace Sugar Smart, a national campaign founded by Jamie Oliver and food charity Sustain.