No evidence of progress in reducing inequalities in obesity, report finds

No evidence of progress in reducing inequalities in obesity, report finds

An Oireachtas committee report says there is no evidence of progress by the Government in reducing inequalities in obesity.

The Government is committed to reducing the gap in obesity levels between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups by 10% by 2020.

The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs said the Government had committed to reviewing progress made in achieving the target every two years.

The Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 to 2025, published more than two years ago, emphasises the importance of setting targets.

The plan states: “Over the 10 years of the Obesity Policy, progress on achieving the targets will be reviewed every two years.”

But the Oireachtas committee in its report on tackling childhood obesity published yesterday said it was not aware of any evidence that progress had been made in achieving the 10% target.

The committee recommends that the Government should establish “clear targets” for reducing socio-economic inequalities in childhood obesity.

It also wants the Government to fund obesity-related research to better identify “obesity hotspots.”

Among the report's 20 recommendations are:

* Keep fast food outlets away from schools.

* Audit the provision of sports facilities in schools.

* Increase access to free drinking water in schools.

* Ensure that there is more play time during breaks.

The committee heard evidence from numerous contributors suggesting that childhood overweight and obesity is more heavily concentrated in lower socioeconomic status households.

The Irish Heart Foundation in its submission to the committee also referred to the social inequalities.

It stated: “The rate of obesity is more than double among children from low-income families compared to those from the higher income bracket, while the rate for being overweight is also 54% higher.

“Those attending DEIS (Delivering Equality in Schools) tend to have higher levels of overweight and obesity than those attending other schools and the gap becomes wider as children get older.”

Over the past eight months, the committee met many concerned groups – including teachers, nutritionists, broadcasting and advertising authorities and urban planners.

“Given the scale of childhood obesity levels, the simple fact is that we must do more to support and protect our children and younger citizens,” said committee chairman, Alan Farrell.

To fail to address each contributory factor would be tantamount to failing to serve the best interests of children and young people throughout Ireland.

The committee wants the Government to consider banning vending machines in schools and, in the meantime, ensure that no school is reliant on the machines as an income source.

It also wants the Government, together with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, to extend regulations restricting junk food advertisements during children's programmes to other programmes that a significant number of children may be watching.

The Irish Heart Foundation said the Oireachtas obesity report is a “crucial step forward” in the national response to child obesity and urged the Government to provide" the resources and political will" to implement the recommendations without delay.

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