OBESITY is a killer and we need a revolution in the way we live if we are serious about salvaging the health of a generation, a leading health expert warned last night.
Dr Wyndham Boobier of the University of Glamorgan has spent much of 2004 touring Wales on a one-man mission to convince parents, pupils, and food manufacturers of the severity of the threat.
"There's nothing gets to me as much as obesity," he said. "It's extremely serious."
His comments came after the Government's Health Committee published a damning report on the UK's obesity epidemic yesterday, with the Government, the NHS, food manufacturers and advertisers all condemned for their inaction.
The committee warned that obese children could become the first generation to die before their parents.
Their report mentioned the case of a three-year-old obese child who died from heart failure, as reported by Dr Sheila McKenzie, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital.
The hospital runs an obesity service for children which, even though it has only been open for three years, has an 11-month waiting list.
Dr Boobier, 52, blames processed food, advertising campaigns for junk food, and damaging lifestyle habits for the obesity epidemic scourging Wales today.
He is convinced that the mass-consumption of factory-produced food is one of the biggest obstacles to a healthy-eating nation.
Dr Boobier said, "If you go back to the end of World War II, they were eating wholesome foods prepared at home. The only food they had which could be called convenience food was an egg.
"Because it's easy, [people today] buy these convenience foods which are high in sugar and fat. And because they are a bit inactive, this results in weight gain."
The sight of sports personalities endorsing junk foods makes him angry.
"I'd like to see the food industry stop using icons to sell foods," he said.
"The message they are sending out is these foods are okay. I'd love to see all advertisements for high-fat and high-sugar foods before nine o'clock taken off air."
But he is just as adamant that people must change their own lifestyles if the battle against obesity is to be won.
Regular exercise must become a part of everyday life, and parents' attitudes to their children's food must change.
"The thing we have got to do is stop force-feeding our kids," he said. "When a child has had enough they have had enough.
"What we are doing is training them to over eat. We are giving them high-fat foods and gassy drinks and we are not promoting activity."
Helping children into healthy habits will not only reduce the chances of them developing obesity-related diseases later in life, but he is convinced it will boost their performance in school.
He said, "In North Wales five weeks ago in Conwy I did a presentation to about 180 people. I went up there because they are a locality that's really keen.
"They have taken all additives out of their school meals. I talked to the head of one school, and he said they didn't have any behaviour problems any more."
Examples of communities acting to transform their diets encourage Dr Boobier. He does not believe food manufacturers will sell safer products unless they are put under consumer pressure.
"The food manufacturers are only in it for profit," he said. "If they can sell everything they make at the moment, where's the incentive to change?
"If you imagine the number of E numbers - what are we doing to our children?
"In a couple of generations' time we will have people burying their children."
Bringing healthy food into the home should, he insisted, be a priority for any parent.
"I live in a small village," he said. "The one shop does not sell fruit. I hear parents say, 'It's so expensive.'
"In my household, our biggest spend is fruit and veg. It's not that we can afford to do it; can you afford not to do it?
"When you are eating so much refined muck, you are not giving them the nutrients they need.
"If we don't get to grips with this, the health service will be under such strain it will crack."
Dr Boobier's passion for his message has not dulled his awareness of how difficult it is for anyone to radically change his or her lifestyle.
He said, "I've never met one person who isn't a loving, caring human being. None of them wants to be obese."