More than one in ten children have started primary school overweight or obese in the last decade, according to new figures.
A total of 82,897 four to five-year-olds entered P1 carrying excess weight between 2005/06 and 2014/15, the Cancer Research UK study for World Obesity Day found.
The charity has warned obesity could become a “crippling burden on society and the NHS” if action is not taken to tackle the problem, with such excess weight linked to 13 types of cancer.
As it launches its Scale Down Cancer campaign, it has called on the Scottish Government to do more to tackle obesity by restricting billboard advertising of unhealthy food and drink and reducing supermarket multi-buy discounts.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, based at Stirling University, said: “We should be concerned about the picture this paints for the health of the nation as we know that obese children are around five times more likely to become obese adults.
“Obesity is also linked to 13 types of cancer including bowel, breast and pancreatic. If left unchecked, we run the risk of obesity becoming a crippling burden on society and the NHS.
“The Scottish Government must do more to serve up a better future for our children and protect youngsters from being bombarded by junk food marketing on TV, as well as the barrage of supermarket multi-buy offers on sugar and fat-laden food and drinks.”
The charity found over the past decade, around 15 per cent of children in primary one each year were overweight or obese.
The nation has one of the heaviest populations in Europe with two in three adults overweight or obese, the charity said, while the cost of obesity to the NHS in Scotland is estimated at £600 million a year.
Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Obesity blights a childhood and damages adult life, raising the risk of serious complications such as type 2 diabetes and breathing problems – conditions we are seeing much earlier in childhood.
“We need to make healthier food the easier, cheaper choice by introducing advertising restrictions before the 9pm watershed, and testing the impact taxation has on foods high in salt, sugar and fat.”
The Government has said UK restrictions on advertising are already some of the toughest in the world and that the food industry has been urged to take steps to make their food healthier.