The popular Coca-Cola Christmas truck has been told it is not welcome in Cumbria.

Those trying to tackle obesity across the county say that using the festive season as an excuse to promote sugar-laden drinks, particularly to children, is wrong.

The Times & Star can today reveal that Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young and public health boss Colin Cox signed an open letter to Coca-Cola, urging it to rethink its Happy Holidays message.

It is not clear whether the letter, sent prior to organisers announcing the truck's festive timetable for 2017, influenced Coca-Cola's decision to avoid Cumbria this year.

The nearest locations for Cumbrian fans to see it this winter are in the north east.

And senior figures have made it clear that they do not want it back in the county in future years.

After appearing in the brand's Christmas adverts for many years, the truck - and its famous theme tune - is seen by many as a festive icon and a sign Santa is on his way.

In previous years, hundreds of families have queued up in Carlisle and Penrith to have their photographs taken with the bright red truck, adorned with the Coca-Cola logo, and get their free samples.

But Mr Young and Mr Cox said at a time when obesity rates are on the rise, promoting the global drinks brand - which has seven teaspoons of sugar in a regular-sized can of Coca-Cola Classic - as part of the Christmas tradition sends out a worrying message.

They added that if we do not see people adopting healthier lifestyles, the consequences will be severe - increasing the risk of health problems like diabetes, and potentially resulting in amputations.

The letter states: "It is with huge concern we see Coca-Cola using once again the festive spirit of Christmas to promote sugary drinks to children and the general population.

"This year was marked by a record high of amputations - more than 8,500 (nationally), mostly due to type 2 diabetes. The condition is closely linked with excessive sugar consumption."

Mr Young said they are not blaming Coca-Cola for all of the nation's health problems, but they do feel the company should take responsibility for the marketing messages it sends out.

He added that other councils across the country have written similar letters, all calling on Coca-Cola to rethink its campaign.

"We really wanted to draw attention to it and not just accept that there should be this very heavy marketing push, clearly aimed at children.

"This obviously isn't the only product that we can link to obesity but they have launched this big marketing campaign and associated it directly with Christmas. I'm not sure how Coca-Cola is related to Christmas.

"The way it is marketed, children find it very attractive. It is almost like Santa coming. That's how it is promoted. There's a clear attempt to conflate the two. It's clever marketing," said Mr Young.

"Yet we are facing this obesity epidemic and the real consequences won't be seen until much later on, when children grow up. We are heading for serious public health problems."

Coca-Cola has responded to the criticism, stressing that many of its samples are zero-sugar versions of the drink.

A spokeswoman said: “The Coca-Cola Christmas truck tour is a one-off, annual event where we offer people a choice of 150ml samples of Coca-Cola Classic, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or Diet Coke – so two of the three options are no sugar drinks.

"This is also reflected in the take-up of samples on the truck tour – with on average over 70 per cent being a zero sugar option. We also have a policy of not providing drinks to children under the age of 12, unless their parent or guardian is present and says they can have one."

But Colin Cox, director of public health, said the truck is part of a major marketing campaign and is simply not welcome here.

“Excessive sugar consumption is one of the major public health challenges of our time, leading to high rates of obesity particularly in childhood.

"The Coca-Cola truck may seem like a bit of festive fun but it is actually a high profile marketing campaign for a sugar syrup that is contributing to our very worrying rates of childhood obesity.

"We don’t want it in Cumbria," he added.