The  UK NHS chief said the food industry should "stop marketing junk food at children".

The UK NHS chief said the food industry should "stop marketing junk food at children".

The Food and Drink Federation has hit back at comments from the UK National Health Service chief suggesting that the food industry should "stop marketing junk food at children" and step up its efforts to remove sugar from processed foods.

In an interview with The Times, NHS boss Simon Stevens appeared to back sugar taxes, calling for a "change in the weather and terms of trade" around the food industry. He highlighted that one child in ten is obese on starting primary school and one in five is too fat when they leave.

"The task of the food industry and the retailers is to reformulate food – particularly sugar – as they have done on salt, and to recognise that they don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the public argument," he said.

The FDF's director general, Ian Wright, in an open letter addressing Stevens' comments said: "Obesity is a complex problem which cannot be reduced to the demonisation of one ingredient, nor can it be right that an everyday ingredient such as sugar is characterised as a poison."

The letter pointed out how FDF members have for many years "taken a responsible, proactive and collaborative approach to public health," naming Mondelez, Premier Foods and Unilever all as examples that have made changes to improve some of their foodstuffs.

"We have reduced calories through recipe reformulations, including sugar and saturated fat reductions, to iconic products and changed portion sizes. In particular, through the use of low calorie sweeteners, significant reformulations have been made in carbonated beverages, dairy desserts and yoghurt, confectionery and table-top sweeteners.

"We support evidence and science-based solutions in tackling the obesity challenge. Indeed when it comes to taking action on health, companies rely on government guidance to ensure they are focusing their energies and investment in work which will bring about positive change for consumer health. This is why it is so important to us that the science is used accurately, and not casually overstated. That will only confuse the consumer," Wright added.