A major new BBC documentary series is set to accuse food and drink companies of creating a smokescreen around calorie intake - by encouraging consumers to exercise, get fit and lose weight.

The four-part series, with the working title ‘The Men Who Made us Thin,’ is by the same production team behind last year’s BBC2 series ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’, which accused companies of deliberately hooking consumers on junk food.

The new series is expected to challenge “misleading” marketing claims over how exercise can burn off calories.

At least two experts will claim the principles of “energy balance” used by the industry - and a key part of government initiatives such as Change4Life - are giving consumers the false impression they can burn off calories through exercise as opposed to diet.

And it will also highlight “ever more well-resourced and prominent CSR obesity strategies developed by food and beverage companies,” including sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury.

In correspondence seen by The Grocer, production company Fresh One said:

“We have observed that a large proportion of food companies sponsor exercise activities, sports teams or children’s sports clubs, and are interested in how this works on a number of levels. This strategy obviously helps with positive branding and healthy associations, but it also puts the emphasis on exercise rather than telling people to reduce the number of fatty or sugary foods they eat.”

Health minister Anna Soubry warned food and drinks companies and associated groups, in a summit meeting this week, that the government was edging closer to regulation because of the slow take-up of voluntary initiatives to slash calories.

The series will claim the government’s Responsibility Deal has let the industry off the hook.

It will also question the effectiveness and safety of artificial sweeteners, featuring links between diabetes and diet drinks.

Earlier this year, Coke launched a major anti-obesity campaign in the US warning consumers of the need for a balanced lifestyle and is looking at developing a similar campaign for the UK.

One senior global drinks brand source said: “There is a lot of fairly quacky science about the role of sweeteners and are making some ridiculous claims, but to question one of the most basic facts of nutrition when it comes to energy balance is frankly bonkers.”