Efforts to improve public health by the government are likely to fail unless major food companies are forced to sign up to tougher guidelines, a children’s health group has warned.

A new report by the Children’s Food Campaign says the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, to tackle big health issues like alcohol abuse and obesity, is being ignored by many big food companies.

The report - entitled The Irresponsibility Deal? - lists 37 national food companies which have failed to sign up to a series of voluntary pledges, such as salt reduction in food and calorie labelling.

The report’s author Kawther Hashem said: “Our analysis shows that, unlike its name suggests, the Responsibility Deal is an irresponsible and utterly inadequate response to the public health problems we face.

“This initiative has failed to elicit the commitment needed from the food industry to improve the nation’s diet and health, and instead is being abused by some companies as a marketing opportunity.

“We need a genuinely responsible approach to public health, including regulations to protect children from junk food marketing, and colour-coded front-of-pack nutrition labelling to help consumers, including children, make healthier choices.”

The Department of Health announced this week that McDonald’s will introduce calorie information to menus throughout all its 1,200 UK restaurants.

But the report says Costa, Pizza Express and Subway have all refused to introduce out-of-home calorie labelling.

It adds that fast food restaurants Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Wimpy have not agreed to reduce salt in their food, while Harvester, Wetherspoons and Sodexo have refused artificial trans fat removal.