Walkers brand ambassador Gary Lineker has joined the row over healthy eating, claiming that pressure groups are treating consumers like “idiots”.

The former football idol, now a TV presenter, delivered his scathing verdict during his first interview with The Grocer.

Defending his decision to promote Britain’s number one crisp brand, Lineker said the nation’s increase in health problems such as obesity was the result of consumer inactivity.

And, in a clear attack on consumer lobby groups, he added: “Consumers are treated like idiots sometimes and it’s wrong.

“As long as they are given the relevant information then they are more than capable of making their own decisions.” Lineker’s attack comes as food manufacturers face increasing pressure to reduce portion sizes and lower the content of substances such as salt and fat.

Several manufacturers have now given the clearest sign yet that they are ready to fight back against the barrage of criticism.

A spokesman for Unilever said: “It’s easy to vilify manufacturers, but to move things forward we need to work together and avoid getting into a blame culture which we believe has gone too far.”

However, one manufacturer warned: “Not everyone wants to get sucked into this debate for fear of stirring up an even bigger hornets’ nest.”

>>pp38, 39 Lineker, health