The number of children classed as obese is continuing to rise.

This has been partly blamed on sedentary lifestyles but poor diet is an important factor, with many young people living on fast food and ready meals and not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

This can lead to problems in later life, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Now a new scheme is being launched to get children more interested in food and encourage them to try something different.

Nutritionist and chef Dawn Wilson, from Hove, believes cooking and healthy eating should be fun and aims to introduce children to the basics. She is holding a series of regular, healthy cookery classes.

Dawn said: "I am concerned about how much children and families rely on recipe dishes and fast food which is so bad for them.

"There is a generation of children growing up with parents who simply don't cook, mainly because they don't have the time or are too tired when they get home. It means the children themselves will then grow up without an interest in cooking.

"However, there are quick and easy alternatives to processed food which can be just as tasty but are so much healthier."

Dawn says the aim is to get people interested. She said: "If we can start children off with the basic building blocks such as learning about carbohydrates and proteins, eventually they will start looking out for themselves.

"Most children like pizzas so, instead of buying a pre-packaged one, you can make your own topping using fresh vegetables which can make all the difference.

"There are also numerous pasta dishes that can be created which are simple to make and perfectly healthy."

Dawn hopes to enrol children aged eight and over to her classes.

She said: "The emphasis will be on fun. Being able to cook is becoming a lost skill but it can be very satisfying.

"My aim is to get children interested in food and thinking about what is good and bad for them."

Part of the lessons will include trips to the supermarket to look at foods and learn more about packaging.

Dawn said: "The idea is to show how things like breakfast cereal can have hidden sugars and may not necessarily be healthy.

"If we can get the children label conscious, hopefully they will start to pass it on to their parents as well."

Healthy eating habits begun in childhood generally carry on into adulthood and increase the chance of a healthy life.

Children grow and develop at a fast rate and therefore need a high-quality diet which contains adequate energy, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Health organisations recommend regular meals rather than one big meal each day and eating as wide a variety of food as possible.

Children should be urged to drink plenty of water but use mayonnaise, salad creams and salt sparingly.

Grilled food is healthier than fried and sweets, cakes and biscuits should not be eaten too often.

Children should be taught about dental hygiene and be encouraged to reduce their intake of foods and drinks containing sugar.

Children who are vegetarian should be given alternative sources of iron, such as dark green, leafy vegetables, pulses and nuts.

A national diet and nutrition survey of young people aged four to 18 years found children eat less than half the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

In an average week, one in five ate no fruit at all.

More than 80 per cent of the group surveyed ate white bread, savoury snacks, potato chips, biscuits, boiled, mashed and jacket potatoes, and chocolate confectionery.

Chicken and turkey were the most popular types of meat, with more than 70 per cent eating these foods.

Less than half the boys and slightly more than half the girls ate raw and salad vegetables (excluding tomatoes and carrots) during the seven-day study period, while 40 per cent ate cooked, leafy, green vegetables.

Once children reach five years of age, they are beginning to take responsibility for their own food intake so it is important they understand the need for a healthy diet.

Anyone interested in signing up their child to Dawn's cookery course, which will take place at Planet Janet in Hove, should ring her on 01273 729158.