Retailers are being urged to “play their part” in the fight against obesity in light of new research which shows that supermarkets carry more promotions on ‘less healthy’ food and drink.

An analysis of 77,165 offers available in Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose between April and June this year, revealed that more than half (53%) applied to foods deemed ‘unhealthy’, while 47% were on fruit and vegetables.

Based on data provided by Mysupermarket, the Which? study also found that more than half (52%) of confectionery was on offer compared to only around a third of fresh fruit and vegetables (30% and 34% respectively).

The consumer champion used the traffic light nutrition labelling system to differentiate between ‘healthy’ and ‘less healthy’ products – items that had a red dot against fat, saturates, sugars and salt automatically fell into the latter category, although those with only one red score for fat and a green for saturated fat were labelled healthy.

More than half (51%) of 2003 adults surveyed in a separate Which? survey felt supermarkets should make it easier for consumers to eat well by including more healthier choices in promotions.

“Everybody has to play their part in the fight against obesity and people want supermarkets to offer more promotions on healthier foods and yet our research found the opposite,” said Alex Neill, Which? director of campaigns and policy.

“It’s time for supermarkets to shift the balance of products they include in price promotions and for all retailers to get rid of temptation at the till by taking sweets off the checkout.”

Professor Parveen Kumar, board of science chair for the British Medical Association, said a poor diet was responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year, and had a "greater impact on the NHS budget than alcohol consumption, smoking or physical inactivity".

“With a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, we must, as a society, share the responsibility to really turn things around and protect the next generation,” she declared.

“The government must introduce a comprehensive and bold childhood obesity strategy, which introduces ambitious targets, backed by regulation, for food companies to reduce added sugar, saturated fat and salt from our food. It must include restrictions on junk food marketing, including promotions, and prohibit retailers from displaying unhealthy food and drink at checkouts and in queuing areas.”