National public health campaigns could contribute to a further widening of health inequalities, a public health minister has warned.
Caroline Flint told a fringe session at the Labour conference that there should not be a 'one size fits all strategy' for public health.
She said that the government was unlikely to use big public health campaigns alone to address the widening inequalities as they targeted people who were already healthy.
'Campaigns could actually contribute to widening inequalities,' she said. 'We have to look at other ways to empower people to look after their own health. More leaflets and booklets just don't cut it.'
She added: 'We need to work at understanding where people are coming from and what determines their behaviour.'
Ms Flint admitted that the government had yet to address the problem of weaknesses in public health services compared with the strength of the acute sector.
'If we really are to move towards better public health, let's be realistic: it has always been the poor relation of the hospitals which are king. I believe we have to address that imbalance'.
Ms Flint told delegates that it was paramount that the NHS balance its books in the short term because 'only with a well-funded NHS can we get into tackling obesity and other public health issues'.
But Tam Fry, child health representative on the National Obesity Forum, hit out at the government's record on tackling child obesity, claiming the NHS would not meet the 2010 target.
'For obesity it was a lousy year,' he said. 'There is no way their target of halting [the rise] in children's obesity by 2010 will happen because we do not have in place the things to prevent it,' he said.
At the same meeting, Anne Weyman, chief executive of family planning service FPA, said pressure to meet the 48-hour genito-urinary medicine access target was jeopardising other sexual health services.
'In many places, as a result of trying to meet the target, clinics are closing their contraceptive services,' she warned.