Food companies can expect tougher measures if they do not speed up efforts to cut sugar from everyday foods, according to Public Health England (PHE).
It says it could publicly name companies that have missed sugar and calorie reduction targets for common foods like breakfast cereals, yogurts, pizzas and ready meals.
The warning was also extended to restaurants, takeaways and cafes with unhealthy, calorific menus.
It comes as a top PHE health official branded obesity “the pandemic of modern times”.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive at PHE, said: “Customers are saying they want faster progress from the food industry and in particular those businesses that have taken little or no action.
“We will be publicly reporting on these during 2019.”
According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures, one in four adults in the UK is obese.
A new PHE survey reveals that nine out of 10 Brits feel obesity is a problem; the same number say the solution is a combination of help from the government and food industry as well as making better individual choices.
“Sometimes we get accused of being the nanny state,” Public Health England’s Chief Nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone told Sky News. “But actually we see that people want healthy choices to be made easier, and they recognise the need for things to change.”
After having three children, Karen Tillett’s weight ballooned to more than 20 stone and she was a UK dress size 26. The 55-year-old from east London found that being obese affected everything, from her family to her health, work and social life.
“Meeting new people and things like that was quite difficult,” Ms Tillett told Sky News. “I could feel them thinking ‘there’s a person that hasn’t got control of herself’.
“Everybody knows what you need to do to lose weight, and I thought they were saying, ‘if she can’t do that, what else cant she do?’. That’s how I perceived it.”
Ms Tillett started a calorie-controlled diet and lost 10 stone, almost half her body weight.
“I felt fantastic,” She said: “Losing weight won’t give you happiness as such but it can help you have more confidence in yourself.”
Current government guidelines challenge the food industry to reduce sugar content in common foods by 2020, so that even if people eat the same foods, their calorie intake would be less.
But the first incremental target, a 5% reduction by 2017, has already been missed and industry insiders say more support for the sector is needed.
Briony Mansell-Lewis, Director of Food Matters Live, a healthy food trade event, told Sky News: “Government may say we need you to step up and do more, but without every element of the supply chain working together that’s impossible to achieve.”
“There is no silver bullet. I think it’s a multi stake holder approach. From supporting innovation by ingredient makers, to manufacturers’ supply chains to the consumer themselves knowing what to ask for.”