Health secretary Andrew Lansley has praised food and drink manufacturers and retailers in backing the government’s Responsibility Deal to improve public fitness and well-being.

Speaking at the UK Faculty of Public Health’s annual conference, Mr Lansley said the initiative had already attracted the support of more than 200 partners and achieved successes that would not otherwise have been possible.

The health secretary told the conference: “We now have 223 partners, mostly in industry, making collective pledges about public health.

“We have launched some of those in months, eliminating artificial trans-fats and doing it by the end of this year, three years earlier than would have been possible by a legislative route.”

The successes highlighted by Mr Lansley included further reductions in the amount of salt in people’s diet, and improvements in alcohol labelling and the provision of calorie information on menus.

Other initiatives had seen further work on alcohol advertising and marketing and schemes to improve employees’ health and activity levels.

Mr Lansley told the conference that the coalition government would regulate where necessary, but would start with information, support and encouragement.

“Together with Responsibility Deal partners, we are already discussing further pledges that they could make in areas such as reducing calorie consumption, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, lower alcohol options and smoking cessation support in the workplace,” he said.

“All of these pledges aim to help and guide people along the right path.

“We are making more progress than would otherwise have been the case, by virtue of working in a collaborative fashion.”

Praising firms such as Tesco, Mars and Unilever for their efforts to help improve public health, the health secretary added: “I think that working together, industry, government and the public health community … we can make changes that will benefit the public in ways we simply haven’t seen before.”

Launched by the Department of Health on 15 March, the Public Health Responsibility Deal aims to tap into the potential for businesses and other organisations to improve public health and tackle health inequalities “through their influence over food, alcohol, physical activity and health in the workplace”.

The strategy has previously attracted criticism from some health organisations and experts, who claimed some of the pledges did not go far enough to address concerns about issues such as alcohol abuse.