(Feb. 1, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Described as the most far-reaching public health plan in the world, the United Kingdom is rolling out a $739 million campaign to battle obesity and improve health.

The initiative was announced Jan. 23 by Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families, and Alan Johnson, health secretary for the U.K.

The officials said the strategy aims to bring together employers, individuals and communities in a unified approach.

The new approach is likely the most comprehensive strategy in the world, said Tim Marsh, associate director of the London-based National Heart Forum.

U.K. officials described the initiative as a first step, to be followed by an annual report to gauge progress on goals. Government statistics show nearly 60% of the U.K. population will be obese by 2050 if current trends continue.

“It is not the government’s role to hector or lecture people, but we do have a duty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles,” Johnson said in a news release. “This will only succeed if the problem is recognized, owned and addressed in every part of society.”

In an interview with The Packer, Marsh said the plan could be stronger in certain areas.

“We think it is ambitious, but we think it could be more ambitious,” he said. “We need to see what works and what has an impact and what doesn’t.”

Marsh said one of the best things about the plan is that it acknowledges that obesity is a shared problem. While the perspective of the government at one time was that the individual bears all responsibility for obesity, Marsh said the government now understands it can help control the environment where food choices are made.

Marsh said the National Heart Forum wanted tighter restrictions on advertising high sugar foods to children. Most of the marketing to children is now done through Internet and mobile phones, and he said no restrictions are in place to address those media.

The plan includes:

  • A $149 million marketing campaign to “support and empower” parents to make changes to children’s diets and increase physical activity;

  • Development of simpler food labeling and a code of good practice for advertisers;

  • A multimillion dollar effort to promote fitness; and

  • Incentives for better health, including looking at financial incentives for healthy living.