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Govt pledges action on child obesity crisis
[Posted: Wed 09/11/2011 www.irishhealth.com]
The introduction of higher taxes on fatty foods and sugary drinks is ‘ absolutely under consideration’ by the Government in a bid to reduce the worrying levels of childhood obesity in this country, according to Health Minister James Reilly.
And the Government is also considering changes in the planning laws whereby fast-food outlets may not be allowed to locate close to schools, according to Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
The two Ministers were speaking at the launch of the latest results from the ongoing ‘Growing up in Ireland’ (GUI) study, which showed that 26% of nine-year-olds in Ireland are either overweight or obese.
The study also found that many parents do not recognise when their children have weight problems, and that overweight/obesity is much more common among lower socio-economic groups.
It said low levels of exercise and high levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with a higher risk of overweight and obesity, and current childhood obesity trends could reverse recent improvements in life expectancy and disability levels.
This, the report stressed, could have significant implications for healthcare costs as more people develop chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Dr Reilly said he was holding discussions with the food and drinks industry on the issue of taxing fatty foods and sugary drinks.
He said this was ‘absolutely under consideration’ at the moment.
“There was a lot of furore about that and I know there are concerns among the food industry but I will invite them to come in and talk to me, and let us do what is good for the industry but also most importantly, do what is good for our children and our people.”
The Minister said he could not comment at this stage on whether specific taxation measures on fatty foods and sugary drinks would be included in next month’s Budget.
Dr Reilly said action must also be taken on appropriate food labelling. “Often the front of the pack has in big letters what the calorific content is, and it is only on the back that you realise that this is the amount per portion and there are three or four portions in the pack you have just consumed.”
He said a striking aspect of the obesity report was the lack of awareness among people that their child may be obese and the serious consequences this can have for a child.
“Overweight and obese children become overweight and obese adults, with all the consequences that brings, particularly diabetes, which is now becoming a bit of an epidemic.”
He said greater use should be made of public parks and beaches for exercise and activities.
The Minister also suggested that vending machines that serve fresh fruit as opposed to high calorie and high fat foods could attract lower VAT rates.
Dr Reilly said there had been a positive response from the industry to proposals to have calorie counting on fast food restaurant menus, and this may also be implemented in other restaurants.
Minister Fitzgerald said discussions were being held with the Department of the Environment to see whether planning regulations can be changed to ensure that if the proposed location of a fast-food outlet is near a school ,that should be a reason to think again about granting planning permission.
“If you walk out of a school and the first thing you see is a fast-food shop, clearly that’s not in the child’s best interests in terms of their health.”
She said the findings of the GUI study were ‘very disturbing.’
Minister Fitzgerald said she would be introducing a nationwide play and recreation network.
The GUI study says children from poorer backgrounds tend to live further away from shops with healthy food options and the distance from these outlets has a negative impact on a child’s diet.
The study says resources for healthier lifestyle interventions should be heavily targeted at lower socio-economic groups.
To tackle the structural changes needed in this area, this should be led by a core Government department such as the Department of the Taoiseach, the report states.
The GUI report also says consideration should be given to measuring height and weight of children during child vaccination, dental and optical visits.
Dr Reilly said he favoured regular weight checks on children being carried out by nurses in GP practices.
The report points to the psychological as well as physical consequences of weight problems in childhood, including low self-esteem.
The study shows that overweight/obesity among young children in Ireland is higher than in many Northern European countries but less than in some southern European countries.
The study found that the average body mass index (BMI) among children rose from 16 to 18 between 1948 and 2007.
Co-author of the study, Prof Richard Layte, said a large proportion of parents have a poor understanding of what of what overweight and obesity actually is.
The report was carried out by the ESRI, TCD and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Parents think obese kids are right weight
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