OBESITY among young children has been rising steadily for decades.

The increase has not be dramatic – up from around eight per cent in 2003 to 10.5 per cent among those who started primary school in Scotland last year – but it risks saddling them with lifelong health problems.

An obese child is five times more likely than a child of a healthy weight to be overweight in adulthood, leading to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, strokes, and joint problems.

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Until the early 1900s, being plump was a symbol of beauty and fertility in women, and power in men.

Only those who were welloff could afford to eat to excess.

Now, children from the most deprived postcodes are more likely than affluent youngsters to be overweight or obese. Only one in a 100 five-year-olds is underweight.

However, the surge in availability of cheap, calorie-dense but nutritionally poor junk foods such as crisps, confectionery, chips, takeaways and fizzy drinks means that obese children are just as likely to be malnourished as those who are underfed.

For a long time, the prevailing response has been to blame the individual and urge greater selfcontrol.

Eat less, and move more was the mantra.

But the effects of obesity extend beyond the individual, especially where the NHS is concerned, and it is only fair to recognise that we have created an environment designed to make us fat.

The Scottish Government wants to change that and has unveiled ambitious plans to ban junk-food multi-buy deals, limit portion sizes served by takeaways and restaurants and make calorie labelling mandatory on menus. Scotland would be the first nation in the world to pursue these types of legislative interventions against obesity. If the legal tussles over minimum alcohol pricing seemed intractable, it will be nothing compared to the backlash from the food industry over these proposals.

It is not the only option, however. The sugar tax has already been implemented – although it is too soon to assess its effects on obesity. Some argue it should be extended to food as well as soft drinks.

A ban on advertising junk food on television before 9pm is also proposed, though broadcasting law is reserved to Westminster.

Efforts should also be made to increase breastfeeding, which has declined but is known to offer a protective effect against obesity in children.