Eating and drinking less, rather than exercising more, is the key to tackling obesity, public health minister Jane Ellison has told MPs.

At the final meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on obesity before the General Election, yesterday, Ellison was asked by Dr Aseem Malhotra, a health campaigner and adviser to Action on Sugar, if she agreed that physical activity, although important for health, was not linked to obesity.

Today the Department of health confirmed that Ellison had agreed that exercise was not the key to tackling the crisis, although denied his claim that she simply answered “yes”.

Ellison said, in a statement to The Grocer: “Reducing overall calorie intake is, in most cases, key to losing weight. Whilst I am clear that eating and drinking less is usually the key to weight loss, physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight and brings many additional health benefits for everyone.”

”The minister said that although taking exercise can help in maintaining weight, that diet is the key to weight loss and tackling obesity,” added a spokesman.

A DH source said that the energy imbalance behind obesity was caused by a “complex web of environmental, physiological and behavioural factors”, adding ”the evidence does not allow precise quantification of the contribution of individual components. It is clear, however, that reducing overall energy intake is key to losing weight,” they added.