Childhood obesity top priority for doctors

Two-thirds of doctors are treating more overweight and obese children than they did two years ago.

Significantly, nine out of 10 have made Ireland’s spiralling childhood obesity problem their top priority.

More than one in four children are now classed as overweight or obese in Ireland, a figure which has doubled in the last 15 years.

The 62% of doctors who are treating more children who are overweight or obese also reported a rise in obesity-related illnesses.

Just over half (53%) confirmed an increase in the number of children with sleep problems and 46% confirmed an increase in the number of children who had asthma.

Six out 10 of the doctors, who are members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPH) Ireland, also see more children with mental health problems than they did two years ago.

More than three-quarters (79%) reported an increase in anxiety cases. Nearly four out of 10 (37%) are dealing with more cases of self-harm and a quarter are seeing more children suffering with depression. Significantly, 92% of paediatricians are worried that children with mental problems are not able to receive treatment quickly enough.

The doctors blame under- funded services (89%), a lack of early intervention (38%), and rota vacancies (33%).

Today, the RCPCH, established in 1996, opens a new office in Belfast to help drive forward and improve children’s health in the region.

“Getting key public health messages out to families early is essential if we are to reduce the numbers of children suffering obesity and mental health-related illness,” RCPCH president, Dr Hilary Cass said.

“It’s clear from our membership survey that obesity and mental health are two major priorities for Ireland that need to be addressed,” said Dr Cass.

Now that the college had staff supporting its 529 members, they were in a much stronger position to train, educate, engage, and campaign on the issues, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, RCPCH Ireland’s public opinion poll supports the notion that a lack of public health awareness is contributing to the growing problem of obesity and mental health issues.

More than 350 people in Northern Ireland were surveyed to gauge perceptions of child health.

More than one in three said they worried about childhood obesity.

However, more than six out of ten think it is cheaper to buy unhealthy food. Just under half of the parents do not know how physically active under fives should be, and over a third said they were too busy to cook healthy food for their children. A third did not know how big portions should be or what constituted a healthy diet.

Six out of 10 linked poverty to the cause of mental illness in the North.

Fat checker

- 62% of doctors report an increase in obesity-related illnesses.

- 90% say childhood obesity is their biggest concern.

- 60% report a rise in children with mental health problems.

- 92% worry children with mental health problems aren’t able to receive treatment quickly enough.

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