The problem of obesity continues to haunt governments while scientists come up with conflicting ideas about the causes. (If you thought it was simply a matter of over-eating, you are sadly out of date.) The theory that it all comes down to genetics has just taken a knock from British researchers who find strong evidence that parental role models are the real problem

A study of 226 families by Plymouth’s Peninsula Medical School found that obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters, while for fathers and sons, there was a six-fold rise. But in both cases children of the opposite sex were not affected — as they most likely would be if genes were the culprits. The researchers suggest that “behavioural sympathy” leads daughters to copy the lifestyles of their mothers and sons their fathers.

Current public health policy is based on the belief that obese children become obese adults, and yet eight out of 10 obese adults were not severely overweight as children, the researchers point out. It seems rather that obese adults lead to obese children.

Study leader Professor Terry Wilkin said: "It is the reverse of what we have thought and this has fundamental implications for policy. We should be targeting the parents and that is not something we have really done to date."

In other news from the UK, a poll commissioned by the nature charity the National Trust found that more than a third of children (38 per cent) spend less than an hour a day outdoors and some can’t even identify a magpie or tell a bee from a wasp. About 87 per cent of parents wished their children spent more time outside, but one in four would not allow them to because of safety concerns. The kids themselves want to get out more — eight out of 10 feel they spend too much time indoors , watching television or playing computer games.

As a result, a campaign to get 100,000 families to "go wild" this summer was launched today. The trust will visit cities across England to raise awareness of the campaign after publishing a list of 10 Things To Do Before You're 10. They include rolling down a grassy hill, going on a bug hunt, making a daisy chain, bird spotting, hosting a teddy bears' picnic, hunting for treasure, making a den outdoors, flying a kite, going bat spotting and escaping into a world of fancy dress.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet