The confectionery giant Cadbury is considering scrapping its controversial "chocolate for sports equipment" scheme after criticism from parents and obesity experts.

The company has decided to review the token campaign, amid accusations that it encourages children to eat sweets to collect the vouchers.

It is the latest in a series of climbdowns by big food companies, who are worried that the Government is planning a clampdown on their advertising and marketing practices.

Kath Dalmeny, policy officer at the campaign group the Food Commission, said: "Companies are now scrambling to show they are taking the right approach and can do the right things without increased legislation. The Cadbury token campaign was misguided and stupid: using chocolate bars to promote sports was an inherent contradiction."

Cadbury launched its "Get Active" sports initiative last year, sponsoring sports events and activity days to demonstrate the company's commitment to tackling Britain's growing obesity epidemic. The scheme involved the collection of tokens on 160 million chocolate bars, which could be redeemed by schools for sports equipment. But it was calculated that 5,440 chocolate bars would have to be eaten to claim a free football net and 170 bags of Cadbury's Buttons would be required for a basketball.

Parents and obesity experts were outraged that high-sugar foods were being used for a campaign supposedly promoting healthy lifestyles.

The token scheme was due to be repeated next year, but a review has been launched. Andrew Cosslett, regional managing director of Cadbury Schweppes said: "We recognise that the token collection scheme distracted from a great activity programme, which had the support of four out of five parents. So we are reviewing the plans for next year, but will carry on with our commitment to activity, which remains crucially important in the prevention of obesity."

A decision on whether to resurrect the token campaign will be made early next year, a spokesman said.

The Government has said it intends to introduce tougher restrictions on advertising of food to children next year, and there are increasing concerns that British companies could face legal action from people who claim that high-fat foods have made them obese.

The investment bank JP Morgan says Cadbury rates second only to the American chocolate giant Hershey in its risk of exposure to obesity-related lawsuits.

Other food companies have also made concessions as parental anger and government concern has increased over the promotion of high-sugar products to children.

Earlier this year, the US firm Kraft said it was reducing portion sizes and introducing better nutrition labelling on its huge range of snacks and foods, in an attempt to avoid potentially crippling lawsuits.

United Biscuits, which is based in Britain, has announced plans to reduce levels of hydrogenated vegetable fat in its products; McDonald's has introduced fruit into its children's Happy Meals and launched a salad range in its London restaurants.

Food companies including Unilever, Proctor & Gamble and Heinz are also funding an advertising campaign in the US warning people not to eat too much fast food.

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