The government has kicked off 2009 with the launch of a three-year anti-obesity initiative with a high profile multi-channel advertising campaign that will span TV, print, billboards and the Internet.

Launched on Friday the campaign, called ‘Change4Life’, begins with £8m worth of television advertisements and a range of initiatives to get people to eat better and exercise more.

Dawn Primarolo, the public health minister, said the aim was “a lifestyle revolution” on a scale not attempted before, to tackle projections that 90 per cent of today’s children would grow up to become overweight adults.

NHS Choices, the official NHS web portal is championing the most ambitious social marketing campaign. The site is leading the health service’s online effort with dedicated resources, tools and a call to action for individuals to change their lifestyles: “Don’t just make a New Year resolution, make a Change4Life for you and your family”.

The site seeks to use social networking approaches encouraging users to create an online account and set up an online avatar or character. When setting up the character, users have the choice of what colour, height and emotional type they want to be – casual, groovy, strong, relaxed or sporty – but not what body shape.

Having registered users can order a free welcome pack including shopping and cooking tips, including a 5 a day wallchart and stickers to keep track of how much fruit and veg they eat.

Through such initiatives the anti-obesity drive aims to do nothing less than change the sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits of the British population, which is projected to result in an obesity epidemic, and resultant health problems.

Many of the initiatives planned during the course of 2009 will involve the very food companies whose products are linked to Britain’s obesity epidemic.

Planned activities include PepsiCo running ads promoting healthy play for children, and Unilever, the owner of Flora, will brand the London marathon ‘Change4Life’. The potential for conflicts of interest is highlighted by the fact the Change4Life section of the NHS Choices website provides a mythbuster section which says the idea margarine has less fat in it is a myth.

Other planned initiatives will include the fitness industry offering temporary free access to health clubs later in the year. Supermarkets such as the Co-op and Tesco will also promote healthier eating.

The Department of Health says it has tried to learn from successful social marketing campaigns such as Make Poverty History by bringing in a wide range of partners to spread a message intended to encourage people to change their behaviour.