FROM pop stars to politicians, most people acknowledge the importance of young people in society, and that in the words of John F. Kennedy: “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

However something far more serious than tobacco, alcohol and even recreational drugs threatens to destroy this hope and that is obesity.

Shocking figures demonstrate that in the last 40 years, childhood obesity, defined as between the ages of five and 19, has increased tenfold worldwide, and in the UK between a quarter and a third of all school age children are either overweight or obese.

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While the image of the chubby little schoolboy or girl is not an unpleasant one, the reality is very different. Long term obesity is linked to 13 different types of cancers, high blood pressure and heart disease, type two diabetes as well as joint and mobility problems.

The effects are not just physical, with anxiety, low self-esteem and even reduced achievement in the workplace and relationship difficulties attributed to the effects of excess weight. Childhood obesity is strongly linked with adult obesity, so if there is a time to address the problem, it is at the earliest stage.

The soft drink and convenience food industries have been heavily criticised with children consuming an estimated half of their daily sugar intake from unhealthy snacks.

Such is the strength of feeling that in some parts of the country, the Coca-Cola truck, almost as much a part of Christmas as the turkey itself, has been banned.

Roughly speaking, four variables govern the development of obesity. These include diet, exercise, your relationship with food itself, and genetics. Only the last one cannot be altered, so although some people have a natural propensity to put on weight, there is still much that can be done to avoid this.

Children are close observers of adult behaviour, so it is likely that the habits you have will influence those of your offspring. The Change4Life campaign advises that you allow your children no more than 2 one hundred calorie snacks per day. A full list of these is available online, and for simplicity, there is a now an app that tells you how many are in an item simply by scanning its bar code.

Healthy eating is a team effort and should be embraced by the family as a whole. If possible, make meals from scratch, rather than resorting to convenience foods, and include your children in the preparation and cooking if safe, so that they develop skills that will hopefully last them a lifetime.

Eat together as a family if practicable, away from distractions such as television, so that your children register the pleasure of eating, and the enjoyment that comes from company. Portion sizes should be appropriate as overeating even healthy foods will still put on weight.

Lastly encourage your children to exercise regularly; a thirty minute walk together will have you on the right track.