If you type the word "childhood" into a Google search box, the first word it will suggest to complete your search is not "innocence" or "memories", but obesity.

The growth of this problem, a direct result of poor nutrition and the cheapness and wide availability of junk food, and its consequences for health in later life, are well known.

New Zealand has lagged behind in this area but is now catching up and fully deserves its reputation as a great place to fatten up children.

Don't blame the parents. For someone on a poverty-level income, soft drinks that are cheaper than milk are the only "treat" they can afford to give their kids. That has led directly to the need for dentists to remove mouthfuls of rotten teeth from thousands of primary school-age children every year.


Less well known than the symptoms of childhood obesity are the public health initiatives to combat it, probably because there are so few and they are so sporadic and under-resourced. An informative poster is no competition for aisle after aisle of brightly coloured soft drinks.

Change needs to come from the boardrooms of the people who produce the sugary food which is slowly poisoning our children.

The point was made with unambiguous clarity by Simon Steven, head of the British National Heath service, who said: "If you are marketing sugar-laden fizzy drinks and junk food aimed at kids, you have a responsibility to stop that", and predicted the corporate malpractice would become socially unacceptable.

The industry's much touted, by itself, efforts to get with the programme are, if not cynical, at best poorly thought through.

Coca-Cola is getting a lot of praise for its new Life version of its signature fizz. Unfortunately, as label readers already know, it still contains a huge amount of sugar as well as the no-calorie herbal sweetener stevia.

You'll search fruitlessly for any statement similar to Steven's from local health bureaucrats or politicians, confronting a powerful and active lobby of producers.

There's also the fear of being labelled interfering and politically correct. We value more highly the right of manufacturers to make money than we do the health of our children. As Steven noted, the parallels with smoking and its decline from universal acceptance to the sad practice of a few pariahs clustered in doorways, could not be clearer.

There used to be a consensus that defended the individual's right to smoke, and the individual still has that right. But legislative and social pressure have played their part in making it a right less exercised. The same process for junk food is inevitable, so why not save some lives and improve the quality of many more by hurrying it along?

Fred Hollows turned Ray Avery's life around when Avery was working in the pharmaceutical industry and Hollows was trying to convince him to take up his charity work. "Stop making money off sick people," Hollows told Avery. And Avery did when he became technical director of the Fred Hollows Foundation. The same advice should be adapted for food producers and passed into law: "Stop making money by making people sick."

The prospect of time travel has always tantalised, but who needs an expensive time machine when you have Nobel prizewinner Tim Hunt, 72, to take you back to the past. The biochemist told the World Conference of Science Journalists that the trouble with "girls" working in science is that it leads to disruptive romantic entanglements. In fact, the reason there aren't more women in science is at least partly that there are so many men like Hunt there. I certainly wouldn't want my daughter working with someone like that.