Childhood obesity is not a subject normally guaranteed to raise a cheer, but one of the largest research exercises in the UK appears to do just that.
Findings from the latest survey of the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the development of children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002, reveal that there are fewer overweight and obese children in Scotland than in any other part of the country and Scottish seven-year-olds are the most physically active.
Five per cent of Scottish seven-year-olds and 6 per cent of English youngsters were said to be obese, compared with 7.5 per cent of Welsh and 8 per cent of Northern Irish children.
Although the figures focus on just one age group, they contrast markedly with the most recent figures from the Scottish Health Survey which showed that 32 per cent of two to 15-year-olds were overweight or obese.
The study, which is published today, also showed that more than half of Scottish seven-year-olds (55 per cent) walk to school each day, compared with only one in four children of the same age in Northern Ireland (25 per cent).
Scottish seven-year-olds are also the most likely to take part in regular sporting or physical activities. Almost half (48 per cent) of those surveyed are involved in organised after-school or weekend activities at least twice a week.
Northern Irish children are the least likely to take part in this form of routine physical activity too. Fewer than four in ten (38 per cent) attend two or more sports sessions a week.
The researchers, based at the Institute of Education, University of London, say it cannot be concluded that children in Northern Ireland and Wales are heavier simply because they are less active than the Scots.
"Activity levels are only one of many influences on children's weight about which our study is collecting information," says Professor Heather Joshi, director of the study, which is published today. "It is also possible that children's weight affects how active they are."
The survey, conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, took place in 2008-09 and involved 1,628 children in Scotland and 14,000 families in the UK as a whole.
It also found that mothers are overwhelmingly ambitious for their children: 98 per want their child to go on to university (UK figure is 97 per cent).
Even so, mothers in Scotland are least likely to read to their seven-year- olds every day - 37.5 per cent doing so, compared with 47 per cent in Northern Ireland.
The province also comes out top in the amount of time this age group spends on homework - 115 minutes per week on average, with Scotland in second place taking 87 minutes. The recommended time for homework in England and Wales is an hour a week in the first two years of primary.
Seven-year-olds in Scotland are the least likely to say they enjoy school a lot (48 per cent, compared with 53 per cent in England). However, they are most likely to say that they behave well in class (74 per cent, compared with 70 per cent in England).
Across the UK, the study confirmed boys' greater hostility to school than girls, with only 43 per cent of seven-year-old boys saying they liked school "a lot" compared with 63 per cent of girls
How Scots compare
- 42 per cent of seven-year-olds in Scotland say they always feel happy, compared with 35 per cent of English children and 46 per cent in Northern Ireland.
- 18 per cent of the Scottish children's fathers smoke at least 10 cigarettes a day, compared with 15 per cent in the other UK countries.
- 69 per cent of seven-year-olds across the UK live with both natural parents, compared with 86 per cent at age nine months; the highest proportion living with married natural parents was among seven-year olds in Northern Ireland (61 per cent), with Scotland on 53 per cent.