BANNING applications for fast-food outlets near schools may make children less fat, Wales's top doctor has said.

The Welsh Government is considering whether new legislation should be introduced to address the principality's health challenges - which include increasing levels of obesity, high rates of alcohol and smoking, and low levels of physical activity.

Dr Ruth Hussey, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said a range of options in the fight against the flab should be considered - such as not allowing pupils to leave school at lunchtimes and providing healthier meals.

According to latest figures, 35% of all children are overweight or obese.

Dr Hussey said: "Obesity in childhood can lead to a lifetime of serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

"Refusing applications for more fast-food outlets in the vicinity of schools would support children to make healthier food choices.

"A great example of how we can make a difference is the Appetite for Life initiative; recommended food and nutritional standards to help schools to provide healthy meals.

"In 2013, councils and schools will have a duty to meet these standards.’’

Jon Wilson, head teacher of Duffryn High School in Newport, said his pupils stay on site at lunchtime, but some do visit McDonald’s first thing in the morning.

“I think it would be helpful to look at, provided it’s looked at as part of the jigsaw,” he said, suggesting adults and schools also needed to practise healthy eating.

The Welsh Government consultation on possible healthy eating laws closes on February 20.

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COMMENT: Obesity no easy issue

WALES’ chief medical officer, Dr Ruth Hussey, gained some support for her suggestion that fast-food outlets should be banned from opening near schools.

Dr Hussey thinks such a move would help tackle the country’s growing problem of childhood obesity.

And there may well be some merit in the idea.

But surely this must be just one part of a much wider, more co-ordinated approach.

There is no doubt that Wales needs to tackle the problem. The fact that 35 per cent of children in Wales are deemed overweight or obese cannot be ignored.

The health problems building up as a result will be a huge drain on public finance. But it is a complex issue.

Yes, keeping schoolchildren at school during lunchtime would stop them frequenting fast-food outlets.

But it would not guarantee that they would therefore have a healthier diet.

As Jamie Oliver’s high-profile campaign highlighted, for every child prepared to eat a healthy school dinner there are just as many not prepared to do so.

In many such cases children denied the opportunity to visit a fast-food outlet would merely bring in equally unhealthy packed lunches.

Schools can of course help educate children about what constitutes a healthy diet, and many do already.

But they cannot do it alone. The messages need to be reinforced across the board.