The single greatest threat to the health and wellbeing of children in Ireland today is obesity, the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has said.
It pointed out that children as young as eight are presenting with high blood pressure, while some teenagers have the heart health of a 60-year-old.
In a attempt to tackle this major health concern, the IHF has launched a new Childhood Obesity Manifesto, which aims to reduce the rate of childhood obesity in Ireland by 50% in the next decade.
The manifesto has been developed by the foundation in conjunction with obesity experts, parents and young people.
"This manifesto has the potential to be a game changer if people take it at face value. It is the truth, simply spoken and crucially has been developed in cooperation with young people who it is ultimately for. It could help turn the tide on childhood obesity - the biggest health challenge of this generation," commented Prof Donal O'Shea, the HSE's clinical lead on obesity.
The manifesto makes almost 60 recommendations. These include:
-A ban on the sale of junk food in schools
-A ban on all unhealthy food and drink marketing to those under the age of 18
-A ban on price promotions, such as ‘buy one, get one free' offers, which encourage the overconsumption of junk food
-The removal of unhealthy food products from the end of aisles and checkout areas in supermarkets
-An end to misleading health claims on the packaging of unhealthy food and drinks.
"If policymakers are serious about protecting children's health in the face of the obesity epidemic, they have to commit to drastic action. A crucial element of this is restricting the ultra-processed food industry's ability to promote overconsumption in pursuit of profit, including through marketing restrictions, taxation and mandatory reformulation," commented consultant endocrinologist, Prof Francis Finucane.
The IHF has also recommended that voluntary reformulation targets, which are to be launched shortly by the Department of Health, should be made mandatory and be accompanied by new taxes to incentivise a reduction in the calorie content of confectionery.
According to the IHF's head of advocacy, Chris Macey, manufacturers exposed to the tax governing sugar-sweetened drinks have reformulated their products much more here and in the UK compared to manufacturers who are only subject to voluntary reformulation.
He said that this clearly demonstrates "the futility of voluntary schemes and the necessity for Government to enforce mandatory programmes, coupled with new taxes, to encourage further reductions in high sugar, fat and salt levels in products popular with children"
"Sweet and chocolate confectionery are among the highest contributors of sugar to children's diets, while chocolate is also one of the highest in terms of saturated fat intake and evidence suggests that a levy on such products that incentivises reduction in calorie content can have a bigger impact than the sugar-sweetened drinks tax," Mr Macey noted.
The IHF added that any money raised by such levies should be ringfenced for obesity. Funding could be used for a number of services and initiatives, including interventions targeting disadvantaged communities, where obesity rates are highest.
The Future for our Children's Health - A Childhood Obesity Manifesto can be viewed here.
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