Portly US youngsters need to chuck out their video games and watch what they eat, according to basketball legend and 7ft man-mountain Shaquille O'Neal.

In an interview with ESPN, O'Neal cited electronic games, along with fast food and a lack of compulsory games lessons, as a major cause of childhood obesity. He was speaking to ESPN to publicise a television programme in which the sports star will help six, er, husky children to lose weight.

"First, only 6 percent of all schools in America have mandatory gym," O'Neal said. "Second, the food we eat is a problem. We're living in a fast-food society now. Third, kids aren't as active as they were when me and you were growing up. They have Sega, Nintendo, Atari. Video games aren't allowing kids to be as active as we were."

It's hard to take issue with Shaq's general aims. Childhood obesity is one of the most dangerous and fastest-growing health concerns presently affecting both the US and this country, and we do need to encourage kids to get out more, and eat more healthily. It was also, hands up, a little unfair of us to make mocking reference to his weight, since a) he's 7ft tall, for goodness' sake and b) who could be better qualified to front this campaign than someone who has battled weight problems himself?

We just wish he could have left video games out of it. People always imagine there's some sort of automatic divide between gamers and sports fans, like the jocks and the nerds in American high-school comedies, and these remarks can only reinforce that impression. But the divide doesn't have to exist; this gamer, for one, isn't averse to going out for the odd run (okay, jog) between Final Fantasy XII sessions. Other members of the PC Advisor team are known to alternate between real and Pro Evo games of soccer. It's a bit like when your English teacher complains that no one reads books any more because of TV. You can do both, you know, and there is such a thing as good TV (and bad books).

It's important to keep the younger members of society active, and compulsory games lessons and adequate sports facilities would be a good start. But that doesn't mean everyone has to chuck out their Wii. Stigmatising video games in some sort of artificial opposition to healthy physical activity just makes the gamers think sport isn't for them, and turns the sporty lads away from the joys of gaming - which would be almost as much of a shame.

And one last thing, Shaq: no one plays Atari any more. Get with the programme, grandad.

[Via Kotaku]