Doctors' group the British Medical Association has called for a serious of measures to combat childhood obesity including no 'junk' food advertising or sponsorship and bans on 'unhealthy' food and drinks vending machines in schools.

According to a BMA report called 'Preventing Childhood Obesity,' worldwide over 22 million children under five are severely overweight. In the UK there are around 1 million obese children under 16 years of age. These soaring rates in obesity have lead to an increase in childhood type II diabetes and will lead to more future cases of heart disease, osteoarthritis and some cancers, says the report from the BMA's Board of Science.

There is no precise figure of how much obesity costs the NHS, but every year the health service spends at least £2bn (US$3.6bn) on treating ill health caused by poor diet. Estimates indicate that, if current trends continue, at least one fifth of boys and one third of girls will be obese by 2020. Therefore the cost to the health service is likely to increase unless measures are put in place to halt this growing problem.

"The recommendations in our report focus on preventing childhood obesity," said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of the BMA Science and Ethics. "There is no room for complacency and it's essential that the government listens to what doctors are saying. We know that parents want to do the best for their children and we hope this report will help them to do that."

"It is madness that at a time when children are being told to eat less and do more exercise, they go into school and are sold fizzy drinks and doughnuts and do less than two hours time-tabled exercise a week," she said. "Children are being bombarded with mixed messages. On one hand they might learn about healthy eating at school and then they go home and spend hours watching TV and see celebrities eating hamburgers, crisps or drinking fizzy drinks. Children and parents are surrounded by the marketing of unhealthy cereals, snacks and processed meals - this has to stop."

The BMA said the government should mount a sustained public education campaign to improve parents' and children's understanding of the benefits of healthy living. There should be mandatory nutrient and compositional standards for school meals. Maximum/minimum levels should be set for fat, sugar, salt, vitamins and minerals. In order to ensure compliance, the profile of health in school inspections should be raised.

The sale of unhealthy food and drink products from school vending machines should be banned in secondary and upper schools to continue the healthy eating message given in primary schools. All schools should make free water available from clean and hygienic sources.

The Government should subsidise the cost of fruit and vegetables to encourage health eating. All manufacturers should be legally obliged to reduce salt, sugar and fat in pre-prepared meals to an agreed level within a defined time frame.

There should be a ban on the advertising of unhealthy foodstuffs, including inappropriate sponsorship programmes, targeted at school children.

Celebrities and children's television characters should only endorse healthy products that meet nutritional criteria laid down by the Foods Standards Agency.

There should be resources to allow children from any region within the UK to gain access to specialist regional obesity services.

The government should increase funding and improve access to sport and recreation facilities within school and communities.

The BMA said it remained deeply concerned by the sale of school playing fields.