LESS than half of British teenagers eat fruit and vegetables every day, according to new research.
And less than a third currently meet international guidelines for physical activity.
But there is some good news - young people in Britain are eating fewer sweets and drinking less fizzy juice than they did 15 years ago.
The shock figures come from an international report on health and well-being of Europe’s youth that reveals that obesity continues to rise across the continent.
The findings are part of an international World Health Organisation (WHO) report into childhood obesity to be presented at a major meeting in Portugal today (Wednesday).
The report, which looked at the health and well-being of young people around the world, examined their behaviour over a 12 year period from 2002 to 2014.
The study found persisting inequalities and a rise in obesity among young people in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe.
Childhood obesity is considered one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
On average, the report suggests that one in 25 adolescents (four per cent) are obese -which equates to more than 1.4 million young people across Europe.
Obese children are at greater risk from serious health problems including type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep difficulties and future cardiovascular disease, as well as school absence and psychological issues such as low self-esteem and depression.
Study coordinator Dr Jo Inchley, of St Andrews University, said: ‘Within the UK, we found an overall decline in the consumption of sweets and sugary soft drinks, which is encouraging.
‘However a quarter of adolescents in England and Wales and a third in Scotland are eating sweets or chocolates every day.
‘Therefore further action is required to reduce their sugar intake, particularly in light of the wide range of sugar-sweetened drinks now available and actively marketed to children and adolescents.
‘We also find as they get older, young people eat less fruit and vegetables, with less than half of the UK’s adolescent population reporting that they eat fruit or veg daily.
‘This suggests that as they gain greater independence and autonomy over their eating behaviour, young people are less likely to make healthy choices.’
The report also found that less than a third of the UK’s youth currently meet WHO guidelines for MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity), although an increase in vigorous activity amongst young Scots was found.
The WHO report highlights persisting inequalities in obesity among young people across Europe, with younger adolescents, boys and those living in families of lower socio-economic position being more likely to be obese.
Other findings include girls reporting healthier eating habits, but also sharp increases in computer use.
Researchers say that given the large number of obese children in many countries by the age of 11, action is required at earlier life stages.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said: ‘Despite sustained efforts to tackle childhood obesity, one in three adolescents is still estimated to be overweight or obese in Europe, with the highest rates found in southern European and Mediterranean countries.
‘What is of particular concern is that the epidemic is on the rise in eastern European countries, where historically rates have been lower.’
Dr Jakab added: ‘Ambitious policy action is required to reach the Sustainable Development Goal to halt the increase in childhood obesity.
‘Governments must target efforts and break this harmful cycle from childhood into adolescence and beyond.’
Dr Joao Breda, Programme Manager for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, added: ‘Most young people will not outgrow obesity: about four in every five adolescents who become obese will continue to have weight problems as adults.
‘As such, they carry forward the increased risk of ill health, stigma and discrimination.
‘Furthermore, the chronic nature of obesity can limit social mobility and help sustain a damaging intergenerational cycle of poverty and ill health.”