A report claiming that the commitment of food businesses to the WHO's Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health is "absolutely pathetic" has been criticised by the industry.

The study by the Centre for Food Policy at City University, London, reviewed the reported diet and health commitments and practices of 25 of the world's largest food companies, including the top ten food retailers, the top ten food manufacturers and the top five foodservice companies.

Based on company policies for strategies such as nutrition, R&D, marketing and labelling, the study found that only ten of the 25 companies were acting on salt, only five were acting on sugar levels, and only four were acting on fat levels.

Although Tesco topped the list of retailers making the most commitment to meeting the targets, it still only scored on 14 of 28 indicators. It claimed that many of its health initiatives had been ignored in the study.

A spokesman for Tesco said: "We're pleased that City University recognised we are the only retailer in their research to report clear public health targets, to make commitments on helping customers to get active and to have a clear policy on marketing to children. However, we are disappointed that the research was based solely on information taken from company reports and our website, because many of our activities were ignored."

He said that this year it was cutting salt, fat and sugar in 750 of its most popular products and was rolling out front-of-pack nutritional labelling to more of its products faster than any other retailer.

The FDF claimed that the industry was already committed to tackling health issues.

A spokeswoman said: "If the authors want the industry to take more action on food and health they are pushing at an open door. Industry has long recognised its responsibilities in this area and it will continue to work with government, educators and consumers."

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University and one of the authors, said: "Tesco was marginally better than some other retailers but the retailers' results were astonishingly weak. They were by far the worst, absolutely pathetic."

He added: "Companies only start doing something when they face public pressure. Food manufacturers, for example, are under immense pressure so they have to be seen to be doing something. Companies need to stop being so defensive and start being proactive about health."