Seagulls scavenge the detritus of discarded fast food; cooling chips oozing red ketchup spill from punctured polystyrene packets as half-eaten sausages, burgers and rolls create crazy patterns on the pavement. The wind sends empty soft drink bottles rolling down the street as the burger van drives slowly into the distance.

There aren't many areas where a small country like Scotland is considered to be ahead of the curve: our soccer and rugby teams continue to defy our low expectations of them while our only sporting superstar, Andy Murray, has all but retired.

Unfortunately our childhood obesity figures are world class. The most recent figures for 2015 show that over one-in-four Scottish children aged 2–15 years are at risk of being overweight or obese.

This matters because of the long-term damage to the health of the child and of the nation; an overweight child is more likely to be an overweight adult, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and also osteoarthiritis. 

These risks have all been pointed out ad-nauseam with little effect on behaviour however there is also a hidden very short-term negative effect.

One of the difficulties of teaching children in the afternoon is the effect of what they refuelled with at lunchtime - the 'Super Size Me' impact as experienced by film-maker Morgan Spurlock in his documentary of the same name.

The fatty foods and sugary drinks in the young people's systems cause sluggishness, thirstiness and headaches, creating a general sense of irritation in the classroom as the clock ticks slowly on through the afternoon. The sufferers are so used to these symptoms they can't imagine feeling any differently and so won't address the primary problem of their diet.

Levels of obesity in young Scots has remained at a constant of around 14–17 per cent since it was first measured 20 years ago, but that's not to say there haven't been attempts to educate our young people into making better choices.

Students know the deep-fried lunch they buy from the maze of fast food shops a short walk away from their school is bad for them, they just don't care enough to eat something healthier. With Australian childhood obesity rates running to similar levels to that of Scotland, drastic measures need to be taken in both of our countries. Is locking the school gates at lunchtime a step too far?

In many regions of France, where the childhood obesity rate at 3.6 per cent is considerably lower than the European average, pupils are simply not allowed to leave the school premises at lunchtime and are given the choice of bringing their own packed lunch or eating from the canteen (although the quality and choice of what's on offer warrants a better name than canteen).

French children actually have a cheese course. It's no surprise that more than half of French school kids choose to eat in the lunch hall. In many Parisian schools, a city noted for its deeply ingrained food culture, the menus for the four-course lunches are even posted in advance so that the family can plan a different evening meal.

This contrasts with Scottish school dinner halls,  where there are a few healthy options, such as baked potatos, but so few are made that any health conscious pupil will have to rush to stake their claim.

In Japan, where the government has a far stricter control on what is served during lunchtime, the idea of pupils racing for the last salad would seem bizarre.

The nutritional content of each school meal has to meet a pre-determined standard, such as mackerel cooked in miso, a light salad of daikon radish and sour plum, thinly- sliced pickled vegetables and a selection of fresh fruit merging healthy eating with fine dining.

Fifty per cent of each lunch is subsidised by central government and these meals have been credited with reducing adult obesity figures to one of the lowest in the world, as well as increasing life expectancy.

The catalyst for this approach to school lunches was the malnutrition suffered by children after WWII. The childhood obesity epidemic in many western cultures is a national catastrophe of similar proportions needing similar government input to the far- sighted leaders of Japan.