Corporate advertising expenditure can be as important for public health as the NHS's own money, according to public health minister Caroline Flint.

Ms Flint told a conference at the Royal Society of Medicine last week that the money spent by supermarket giant Sainsbury's to encourage shoppers to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day should be considered in the same way as NHS funding.

Ms Flint said arguments about ringfencing NHS public money, such as Choosing Health funds, should not get in the way of the bigger picture.

Infinite possibilities

'Some primary care trusts have used their Choosing Health money [for public health] and some have not. But the potential for spending on public health is infinite and an obsession with ringfencing limits the amount of money you can spend,' she said.

'Sainsbury's have announced their profits are going up and they say a lot of it is down to selling more healthy food. I don't have a problem with that if it gives us the outcomes we want.'

Ms Flint said NHS public health staff should piggyback on cultural changes that are helping to improve the nation's health, rather than insisting on doing all the work themselves.

'The reality is that more money on its own does not help us reach our objectives if it is not reaching the people we need to reach,' she said.

The minister hinted that the government's forthcoming alcohol strategy, due in June, would focus on cut-price alcohol.