According to a recent survey by the International Obesity Task Force (a private research group) for the World Health Organisation around 36 per cent of children between the ages of 7 and 11 in Italy and Sicily are overweight or obese.

Spanish children ranked second in the survey at 27 per cent, Greece had the third highest rate of obesity within this age group (31 per cent) while Portugal is in fourth position with 32 per cent. In the UK, this problem affects 27 per cent of 7-11 year olds.

The results of the survey shatter the image of the healthy Mediterranean diet associated with European's Latin countries.

Possible solutions currently being discussed in Italy include setting up automatic vending machines selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fruit salad and freshly squeezed juices with no added sugars within the schools.

The principal causes of obesity among children are a sedentary lifestyle and fatty foods which, according to the World Health Organisation, are also the principal causes of heart problems and diabetes. Children who are overweight or obese run the risk of living a shorter life than their parents.

On average, less than two fifths of European children get the necessary amount of weekly physical activity and less than two fifths of young people eat fruit daily. Only about a third of European children eat vegetables every day, according to the research.

According to the International Obesity Task Force report 155 million children worldwide are classified as overweight and between 30-45 million as obese.