Rates of obesity are on the rise
The health secretary has warned that "vilifying the extremely fat doesn't make people change their behaviour".
In a Fabian Society speech Alan Johnson instead said he wanted a "national movement" with business, councils and the media all helping tackle obesity.
He called for "a fundamental change in the way we live our lives".
The comments are being seen partly as a response to Conservative leader David Cameron's call for people to take some personal responsibility for obesity.
Meanwhile, companies including Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, Mars and Nestle have pledged a package worth more than £200m to encourage people to eat healthily and exercise ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.
A consortium of firms headed by the Advertising Association is offering air space, on-pack messages and cash, a spokesman said.
A Department of Health spokesman said it was still working on the details but companies or coalitions would have to sign up to a set of standards.
The specifics of the government-led Change4Life campaign, to be launched in the autumn, will be worked out in the next few months.
In his speech Mr Johnson said obesity was "the biggest challenge we face".
"Over the last 60 years, the number of people who are severely overweight has risen steadily.
"There is a very real danger that today's children will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents and spend more of their years in poor health.
"Just as the government has a moral duty to tackle poverty and exclusion, so it also has a duty to address obesity."
'Point and shout'
Mr Johnson added: "But this is not a licence to hector and lecture people on how they should spend their lives - not least because this simply won't work.
"Tackling obesity requires a much broader partnership, not only with families, but with employers, retailers, the leisure industry, the media, local government and the voluntary sector.
"We need a national movement that will bring about a fundamental change in the way we live our lives."
Mr Johnson warned that "commentators who point and shout at pictures of the morbidly obese simply fuel the problem".
Instead the message should be presented "more intelligently", he said.
"If you explain to parents that many children, regardless of their size, have dangerous levels of fat in their arteries or around their organs and this may reduce their life expectancy by up to 11 years, then people respond."
Mr Johnson has written to 220,000 local health activists to ask them to shape a national campaign to change lifestyles.
He said this would help every citizen "get the encouragement and support they need to be healthy" via TV programmes, in what they buy in the shops and how they travel to and from work and school.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley claimed Labour had "shown very little will to face up to the scale of the problem".
"Obesity can't be tackled by government alone - we all have a part to play. Alan Johnson has dithered over taking action on issues like food labelling where government has a duty to help," he said.
In a recent speech, Mr Cameron warned that politicians should not be afraid to spell out right from wrong. Failing to do so meant "a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of a moral choice".
"We talk about people being at risk of obesity instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise," Mr Cameron said.
"We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it's as if these things - obesity, alcohol, drug addiction - are purely external events like a plague or bad weather."