Increased awareness and education are vital to combating rising levels of obesity in children, Scotland's health minister warns today.
Recent statistics show that one in five Scottish 12 year olds are obese, and a third overweight, figures that translate into considerable health implications in later life.
Obesity is a major risk factor for many chronic and debilitating conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and joint problems.
Alarming the government, these latest figures will underline ongoing investigations into the way schools and food companies can influence children's diets.
Schemes already on the go include set levels for fat, salt and sugar in processed food at schools, free fruit for all primary 1 and 2 children, and an agreement with Coca-Cola to remove branded vending machines from all Scottish schools.
The UK Food Standards Agency recently reported that teenagers frequently opt for healthier drinks if given a choice, after testing the response to vending machines that offer fruit juices and milk in British schools.
The FSA also reported that 'healthier' drinks, or those without high levels of fat or added sugar, were profitable for schools, triggering the launch of a new guide for schools on how to set up healthy vending machines.
Labelling, advertising, salt reduction and vending machines in schools all figured in a seven point manifesto launched in September by the UK's €99.58 billion food and drink industry. Portion sizes will be cut as the food giants signatories, including Cadbury Trebor Bassett, Coca-Cola and HJ Heinz, aim to tackle the sensitive food and health debate.
Health concerns have influenced new product development conceived by food and drink manufacturers, according to Mintel's GNPD, which tracks product launches. A total of 543 new products or extensions targeted at kids were launched in 2001 by food and drink manufacturers, but this dropped to 366 in 2003 - and to just 46 in the first half of the current year.
"We simply must change this country's bad habits. That is why we are working together with retailers, manufacturers, schools, local authorities, the NHS, the voluntary sector and many more to make the healthy choice the easy choice" said Rhona Brankin today, Scotland's deputy health minister.
She added that education was key in raising awareness among youngsters over the ticking health time bomb.
The Scottish National Party is urging the Scottish executive to set obesity targets as well as putting forward a bill to ban print, cinema and billboard junk food adverts.