I remember writing about four years ago that the level of media attention in the UK being levelled on obesity may temper the threat of potential regulation of the alcohol industry as legislators sharpened their teeth for a different prey.

With calls for warning labels on chocolate bars and punitive measures to protect our children from the supposed evils of Coke and Pepsi's marketing machines, I think I was right - for a while.

Government rhetoric and media coverage this week on both issues, however, has demonstrated how, once again, alcohol abuse has leapfrogged obesity to stake its claim as public enemy number one in the eyes of regulators, the media and, tellingly, the public.

The sad fact is that the alcohol industry missed an opportunity, when the spotlight was temporarily off it, to get its house truly in order and ward off the regulators.

Yesterday (24 July), food manufacturing giants including Cadbury, Kellogg and Mars pledged more than GBP200m (US$398m) to support a UK government-backed scheme to tackle obesity in the country.

The likes of Britvic, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have also joined the consortium of manufacturers, retailers, broadcasters and fitness groups in supporting a campaign dubbed Change4Life, which hopes to encourage people to eat more healthily and take more exercise. The drive is industry driven, but it has the backing of the UK government and the Advertising Association.

Contrast this co-operation with the language used by the Department of Health earlier in the week, when it attacked the drinks industry's failure to adhere to its own voluntary code of conduct. Legislation looms ever larger for the alcohol industry. For the soft drink and food industries the threat in the medium term seems thwarted.

Why, then, this difference in the relations between the two industries and the Government?

"Well you don't see grown men beating each other up in Croydon after eating eight Crunchie bars, do you?" was the reaction of one friend of mine when we discussed the contrasting fortunes of the food and drinks industries.

This may be true, but the effects of obesity still have huge social consequences, with a Government study suggesting that two-thirds of adults and a third of children in the UK are overweight or obese. Forecasts published last year predicted that, by 2050, 60% of adult men, half of all adult women and a quarter of children under 16 could be obese.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said earlier this week that obesity is the "biggest challenge" the UK faces. That's obesity, not alcohol abuse.

So where has the food industry succeeded where the alcohol industry has so palpably failed to convince authorities it is better off tackling its own problems?

Many in the drinks industry will argue that millions of pounds have been spent on sensible drinking campaigns and that anti-alcohol sentiment was an unstoppable tide.

But the industry's reaction to the KPMG study that sparked the Health Department's comments shed some light on the problem. Unsurprisingly, much of that reaction has been defensive, dismissing some of the report as anecdotal and slamming the idea that new legislation is the answer.

The reaction from a sector under threat is understandable, but it reinforces the idea that the drinks industry is unwilling to discuss real change to the status quo.

The issue is that, for the public and the media, the anecdotes of drunkenness and under-age drinking do ring true for many of those who venture out into provincial British towns on a Saturday night. For those that don't venture out, the media brings those images straight into our front rooms.

Either the drinks industry has failed to act, or at the very least it has failed to communicate properly the actions it has taken. Either way, it should look to the food industry for examples of how it should progress.