Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed he will consider introducing new laws to limit the amount of sugar, salt and fat in processed foods to curb childhood obesity.
But the Tory minister said he wanted to give supermarkets and manufacturers a chance to get their "house in order" before resorting to legislation.
The comments come after his Labour counterpart Andy Burnham announced a consultation on capping sugar and fat levels in food targeted at children.
Mr Hunt criticised the former health secretary for failing to tackle the problem while he was in power, and said Labour had left the nation with the highest childhood obesity rate in Europe.
He told ITV News: "My message to the supermarkets and the food manufacturers is that we will of course consider legislation. But we want to give you a chance to put your house in order and make sure that we are not shovelling sugar down the throats of young children and storing up problems for the future."
Mr Hunt said the Government had taken action over the last couple of years to tackle the problem, and that had led to a reduction in the amount of sugar and salt in supermarket foods.
He added: "This is a very, very serious problem. It's now potentially a bigger threat to the life chances of children than not being able to find a job when they leave school."
But Mr Burnham said voluntary agreements with the food industry were not working, and Labour is now looking at legal limits setting maximum permitted levels of fat, sugar and salt in food aimed at youngsters, which could include a 30% cap on sugar in cereals.
The shadow health secretary said: "It is clear that the current voluntary approach is not working. We need to open our minds to new approaches in tackling child obesity."
Gabriel Scally, former regional director of public health for the south west at the Department of Health, said: "The continued rise in childhood obesity is an urgent call to action and must not be ignored. I applaud the Labour Party for tackling the issue of the foodstuffs filling our children with the empty calories that fuel obesity. Helping parents protect and promote the future health of our children is exactly what we need to be doing."