Government launches 10-year war on obesity

Action plan to slim down nation as 60 per cent of adults now overweight or obese

Weighing us down Pic: Getty

The government today launched an strategy to tackle the growing problem of obesity in Ireland.

The plan – A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025 – outlines how we can reduce overweight and obesity rates.

Key measures include:

-No fry zones

-A national nutrition policy,

-A clinical lead for obesity in the HSE

-Targeting of disadvantaged areas in health promotion

-Calorie posting legislation

At the Dublin Castle launch,Minister for Health Simon Harris said: "Rising levels of overweight and obesity are placing an increasing burden on individuals and society and this represents one of the biggest public health challenges Ireland is facing today."

The plan aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system and society.

The Irish Heart Foundation welcomed the initiative but warned against "implementation paralysis".

"Any delay in tackling the obesity problem will have devastating consequences for the future health of our children," said IHF spokesman Chris Macey.

"Many of the planned actions fall within the responsibility of other departments and we are concerned about whether the [Department of Health's] clear commitment to tackling obesity extends across the whole of government," he said.

There have been calls for a sugar tax on soft drinks,but this has been opposed by industry groups, who claim it would have significant economic costs while delivering no health dividend.

Food and Drink Industry Ireland director Paul Kelly said “The food sector is adamantly opposed to the inclusion of policy measures, like food and beverage taxes, which are unfair, discriminatory and not evidence based."

However, he said his industry will support measures on product reformulation, nutrition labelling, product choice and workplace wellbeing.

A "Healthy Ireland" survey commissioned by the Department of Health last year found that 37 per cent of adults are now overweight with another 23 per cent obese.

The research found higher levels of obesity amongst those in lower social classes.

A study has suggested that the total of the direct and indirect costs of adult obesity in the Republic is €1.13 billion a year, accounting for 2.7 per cent of total health expenditure.

Research published byThe Lancet medical journal earlier this year suggested that by 2025, the level of obesity among women in Ireland will be the second highest in Europe, just behind Britain.

The plan lists sixty specific actions to improve Ireland's health and to reduce the burden of obesity across society.

These include new healthy eating guidelines and nutrition policy.

The plan backs the introduction of a sugar levy and “whole of school” approaches to healthy lifestyles for youngsters, in tandem with the Department Education and Skills.

Levels of overweight and obesity have increased dramatically in recent years with 60 per cent of adults and one in four children in Ireland either overweight or obese.

Simon Harris said "While lifestyle choices are made by individuals and families, government can and must help to empower people make these healthy choices."

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr Katherine Zappone also launched Healthy Lifestyles – Have Your Say, a report of consultations with children and young people on the matter.

She said "Body image and media influences were identified as the main barriers to a healthy lifestyle among teenagers, including the pressure to conform to a particular body image.

"Exam stress and heavy study workloads were identified as contributing to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles.

"Other school-related issues identified by young people include their criticisms of the teaching of social, personal and health education (SPHE) and the lack of choice in physical education, with the few alternatives to team sports it offers, and its failure to cater for different interests."

Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said “Prevention is key and there will be a focus on children and on reducing the inequalities that are evident.”

The HSE is also

to develop community-based health promotion programmes with special focus on disadvantaged areas.