By politics.co.uk staff
The government stood accused of abandoning the public health argument as Andrew Lansley outlined a "non-regulatory approach" to junk food.
The health secretary told a public health conference yesterday that the government would seek to limit regulation of unhealthy food in return for private sector backing of its public health schemes.
It came as it was announced funding for the £75 million Change4Life initiative was being halted.
"No government campaign or programme can force people to make healthy choices," the Guardian newspaper quoted Mr Lansley as saying.
"We want to free business from the burden of regulation, but we don't want, in doing that, to sacrifice public health outcomes."
Last week official statistics revealed the last 15 years has seen the proportion of adults who are obese rise from one-sixth to one-quarter.
"The government is saying to industry if you give us money to run our campaigns we will take away the threat of legislation or regulation which is what is needed in this country," Tam Fry of the National Obesity Programme told the Today programme.
He warned high salt, high fat and high sugar ingredients in processed food were at the heart of Britain's obesity problem and suggested the government's new approach would not help tackle it.
"What needs to be done is for the food industry is to be told that is the level beyond which you will not go," he insisted.
"That would then enable every housewife going into a shop to know the food she's taking off the shelf goes off the guidelines."
Mr Lansley's approach shies away from confrontation with food companies. In his speech yesterday, in which he announced plans for a new ring-fenced public health budget and a new 'health premium' targeting poorer areas, he outlined general principles about his approach.
"We will not be dictating the 'how' when it comes to achieving better public health outcomes," he said.
"But we will be very clear about the 'what' what we want to measure and achieve, such as: increases in life expectancy, decreases in infant mortality and health inequalities, improved immunisation rates, reduced childhood obesity, fewer alcohol related admissions to hospital, and more people taking part in physical activity."