Campaigners have blasted a move to shelve a report which claimed a sugar tax would decrease purchases of the types of food and drinks blamed for Britain’s obesity crisis.

The study, which ministers have delayed since the summer, says a levy would rein in demand for unhealthy food and drink. “All the evidence shows a sugar tax does decrease purchases,” MPs were told yesterday. Alison Tedstone of Public Health England, which drew up the report, added yesterday: “The higher the tax increase, the greater the effect.”

Commenting on the delay of the report’s publication, Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “It is absolutely scandalous that the health secretary and NHS officials have refused to publish the scientific review by Public Health England (PHE) on how best to reduce sugar, which includes a proposed sugar tax. Why has this ‘hidden secrecy’ has been allowed to happen?”

The admission by Tedstone followed a plea by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for ministers to be "big and bold". Oliver, who has introduced a levy on soft drinks with added sugar in his own restaurants, said: "We should be big and bold. Who is running the country? The businesses who are profiting from ill health or is it us?"

And on Monday, Duncan Selbie was hauled before the health select committee to explain why PHE was refusing to publish its Sugar Reduction strategy, which had been due to be published alongside the SACN review in the summer.

MacGregor added: “For too long, this government has allowed an unregulated food & drink industry to peddle poor nutrition and high calorie products targeting the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. We now need to fully understand who’s determining the country’s obesity strategy – is it the food and drink industry or the government?

“What we eat is now the major cause of strokes and heart attacks, obesity and type 2 diabetes and is therefore the biggest cause of death and ill health in the UK. If the issue of imposing a sugar tax is not addressed now, both the government and food and drink industry will be to blame for bankrupting the NHS. It’s a simple as that.”