More than 600 staff will be recruited in a government drive to encourage every school pupil to be more active. The cost will be met from the£24m set aside in the 2002 Scottish budget to develop an Active Schools strategy.
He also announced that new nutritional guidelines will be developed and implemented for food served in pre-school education centres.
The moves are the next phase in the Scottish government's healthy living campaign launched by the first minister in January 2003. They come after a recent report showed that one in three 12 year olds are overweight.
During a visit to the Rainbow Family Centre in Port Glasgow, Mr McConnell said:
'We need to act now or we face obesity problems on a par with the United States. We have achieved much in a year, but recent horrifying statistics show we still have much more to do.
'I accept government's responsibility to lead on this issue, but all parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children eat well and stay active, the best - and easiest - ways any individual can improve their health.
'By taking small steps such as playing with their kids or walking them to school, parents can make big and lasting changes to the immediate health of their children, and the future health of our nation.
'But they cannot change a country's bad habits on their own and that is why the recruitment of the activity co-ordinators is so important. Their role will be to work in schools to increase the opportunities for physical activity, recruit pupils who will support and coach their fellow students and help to change Scotland's couch-potato cult ure for good.
'The health of our nation depends on us all taking individual responsibility for ourselves - and each other. I want everyone in Scotland to encourage children to get off the couch and get moving.'
The first minister explained the new guidelines for food in pre-school education centres. He said:
'By the end of the year every primary school should have new standards for school food in place. Today I am announcing that we will have similar guidelines for pre-school education centres, because if we are to teach our children good eating habits that will stay with them for the rest of their life, we must start early.'
Emphasising the need to sustain a lengthy campaign against obesity and unhealthy living. He said:
'I have laid out the next steps in our drive to improve the nation's health. This is a long-term crusade to change a nation's habits, to be developed over the next decade.
'It will take years to deliver lasting change, but I am determined to build on the start we have made and seeit through. I will do what I have to do to make Scotland a healthy, happier and more prosperous nation.'
Key health improvements initiated by the executive so far include:
* nutritional standards for school meals, including set levels for fat, salt and sugar in processed food, backed by a detailed monitoring and inspection programme
* free fruit for all primary 1 and 2 children were introduced
* agreement with Coca-Cola to remove branded vending machines for all Scottish schools and provide water and healthy choices
* developing Safer Routes to school, and improving the opportunities for children to walk and to cycle
* expanding and developing new breakfast services for children
* 500 community food initiatives now operating
* Scottish Healthy Choices Awards Scheme has now presented over 300 awards, driving up standards in catering
* awareness of healthy eating campaign, which includes the healthy living advice line, kept high through the year
The Active Schools Staff network is funded by the executive from the£24m set aside in the 2002 Scottish budget to develop an Active Schools strategy. It will be developed by sportsscotland.
The funding will support sport in school, but research by the Physical Activity Taskforce suggests that children also need to be encouraged to take part in all kinds of physical activity, not just sport.
The Clinical Outcomes Indicator group reported in December that one in three of Scots 12 year olds are overweight, with one in ten severely obese. And one in five toddlers are overweight before their fourth birthday.