We won't nanny people, Health Secretary tells junk food firms

The Health Secretary has offered reassurance to junk food manufacturers, saying he wants to avoid "intrusive, restrictive and costly regulation".

Andrew Lansley told senior executives from companies including Mars and PepsiCo that Ministers were not interested in "nannying" people about their food choices.

The Government has come under fire for rolling back its spending on the Change4Life health campaign in favour of getting commercial companies and charities to fill the gap.

Cadbury, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Kraft, Mars, Nestle and PepsiCo have all been involved, alongside Britvic and supermarket giant Tesco.

At a public health debate held by The Grocer trade magazine, Mr Lansley said a "real opportunity exists to work together in partnership to make a commercial environment" that is conducive to improving people's health "not by restricting choice but by extending it".

He said there had been an imbalance in health policy for years, with "big state dominating over big society". While such an approach may have been useful in some areas, today's challenges were different.

People's lifestyles, environment, their behaviour and how their peers reacted all defined their health far more than how many beds were in their local hospital.

Mr Lansley said there needed to be a wide range of interventions to achieve improved health – regulation was just one option.

Evidence showed that where governments were too quick to regulate, everybody – including the consumer – lost out, he added.

Mr Lansley reiterated his commitment to a model known as the Nuffield ladder of interventions, which favours less intrusion as a starting point.

"If you give somebody more control they are more likely to take greater responsibility," he said.

"Nannying, imposing change from above for adults is the abdication of responsibility."

Mr Lansley said regulation would be resorted to "if and only we don't make sufficient progress."

The Government is driving forward a new public health responsibility deal with industry. The aim is to encourage better food labelling, more information about the harmful effects of alcohol and a much greater contribution from industry to Change4Life.

Mr Lansley said companies had a way of reaching consumers that the Government did not.