Taxpayers' money is being handed to fast-food firms such as Nestle and PepsiCo while ministers fail to tackle the obesity crisis, a damning study says.
Huge corporations are among those being given grants worth hundreds of thousands of pounds while the NHS faces a growing burden from illnesses linked to weight gain.
One firm was given almost £500,000 to help improve its chocolate while others were handed large sums to make biscuits or sell ice cream.
The charity said seven in ten middle-aged adults are overweight despite the millions spent on the Government’s anti-obesity strategy and it has called for a radical overhaul of healthy-eating policies.
Its report identified a string of occasions when public cash was given to firms who make millions marketing junk food for projects that undermine public health.
It found the Government’s Technology Strategy Board gave £637,812 to a joint project with Mondelez – the parent company of Cadbury – for ‘confectionary production’. Another grant of £487,268 was given to Nestec, part of Nestle, to research ‘chocolate cooling technology’.
The board also put £356,076 into a joint project with PepsiCo to research dehydrated snacks.
Meanwhile, the Rural Development Programme for England gave two grants in 2010 – £12,500 towards biscuit production and £11,400 to help convert a barn into a chocolate-making unit. The year before, the quango handed over £143,000 to convert a farm building for ice cream production.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council put £100,173 into a project designed to improve the ‘sensory properties’ of confectionary wafers. Some £180,000 went on two other projects involving wafers.
The UK Coronary Prevention Group says the Government has ‘failed’ on obesity and ‘done too little’ to tackle dietary habits.
Professor Philip James, chairman of the charity’s trustees, said: ‘Some of these grants are greater than the amounts spent by local health services tackling overweight in adults and children.’
The group has now identified 200 measures including a ban on fast-food outlets near schools and business-rate cuts for alternatives offering healthy dishes.
Supermarkets would also be required to offer price promotions on healthy food, while there would be strict controls on all food sold in schools and hospitals.
The report comes after it emerged last month that the Government’s anti-obesity drive was being overseen by a firm that also helps promote fast food. PR business Freud Communications earns £3million a year to run crucial public-health campaigns – including Change4Life – while also working with companies including Mars, KFC, PepsiCo and Walkers crisps.