Three health charities have come in for fierce criticism this week after resorting to shock tactics in a joint ad campaign to alert mothers to the dangers posed by kids’ unhealthy lifestyles.

Key industry figures expressed outrage at ads, which feature the image of a young girl enjoying a cupcake with the headline ‘Is a premature death so tempting?’ The ads are part of a four-week press campaign created jointly by Diabetes UK, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

The industry’s main gripe, however, was not with the ad itself but with the fact it was being run under the Change4Life banner, the Government’s three-year campaign to fight obesity. Major suppliers and retailers, including PepsiCo, Unilever, Tesco and Asda, have signed up to Change4Life and it was understood the campaign would promote healthier lifestyles positively.

“As far as we were concerned, Change4Life was about making small changes to diet and lifestyle,” said one industry source. “We honestly believe that hectoring and lecturing on consumer issues doesn’t work.”

The charities, however, defended their stance. A statement on their websites said: “Some of the messages may be harder hitting but research told us we had to be.”