Latest: 85,000 children will die prematurely of obesity, Irish Heart Foundation warns

Update 6.15pm: Research has indicated that 85,000 Irish children will die prematurely due to obesity.

The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) is calling for vending machines to be banned in schools to help tackle the issue.

Head of Advocacy with the IHF, Chris Macey told the Oireachtas Committee today that they are also seeing evidence of children who are simultaneously obese and malnourished.

"State-funded research suggests that 85,000 of today's children on the island of Ireland will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity," he said.

"Sadly we're seeing evidence that something catastrophic is already happening.

"Children as young as eight are presenting with high blood pressure and young people showing signs of heart disease that used to only be seen in middle age.

In disadvantaged areas we're also witnessing a new phenomenon, children who are simultaneously obese and malnourished.

Earlier: Children 'relentlessly' targeted by junk food marketing, IHF warns

Update 11.28am: The Irish Heart Foundation has accused junk food companies of targeting children in the same way Cambridge Analytica have targeted voters.

The group junk food marketers have distorted children’s food choices for years in a similar way to how voters were targeted in the US Presidential Election.

The Irish Heart Foundation told the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs today that childhood obesity is the greatest single threat to the health of the country.

They are seeking support for a blanket ban on junk food marketing to children under 16 years of age.

Head of Advocacy with the IHF, Chris Macey, said: “If a small consultancy company virtually nobody had previously heard of potentially influenced the course of a US presidential election and the Brexit referendum using data harvested via Facebook, imagine the extent to which junk food marketers can use digital platforms to manipulate children.

“Cambridge Analytica attempted to persuade adult voters to exercise their franchise in a particular way over a short period of time.

"Junk food marketing involves the world’s best marketing brains in the world’s biggest agencies relentlessly targeting children, who we know are way more susceptible to advertising, every single day."

Mr Macey said junk brands "have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to children – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home, even in their bedrooms through their smart phones".

“The effect is that children associate positive emotions and excitement with junk brands," he said.

"They often don’t realise they’re being advertised at. Brands get onto their newsfeeds and interact like real friends, effectively becoming part of children’s social lives. They even get children to become marketers for them by tagging friends into ads and posting messages.”

According to a report by the Department of Children, one in four school children is overweight or obese in Ireland.

- Digital Desk

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