Fat chance for kids to avoid fast food stores

Three quarters of post-primary schools have one or more fast food outlets within 1km of them, a major conference on health will hear today.

The conference, hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH), will also hear that the stigma associated with attending childhood obesity treatment programmes needs to be tackled to improve uptake of such programmes.

The IPH’s fourth annual Open Conference is due to opened by Tony O’Brien, director general of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Twenty-four papers are being presented at Dublin’s Croke Park Conference Centre on a range of public health issues such as income inequalities and health and childhood obesity.

It follows a survey last week of more than 1,000 schoolchildren in Co Cork which found that young children who consume sugar-sweetened drinks are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese.

More than 80% of eight- to 10-year-olds in Cork City and county consume sugary drinks, according to the Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study.

This rises to 91% among children of parents with low levels of education.

Owen Metcalfe, IPH chief executive, said: “Today’s conference highlights how effective public health interventions can make significant positive difference to the lives of individuals and to the type of society we live in.

“It provides an important all-island forum to showcase public health research and opportunities for key players including practitioners, policy makers and the community and voluntary sector to exchange ideas that can help create a healthier population.”

Childhood obesity is one of the topics at the conference and Emily Kelleher of University College Cork said strategies to boost recruitment and minimise dropout are required to improve the outcomes of child obesity treatment programmes.

“Evidence suggests that programmes that are family-based and combine healthy eating, physical activity and behavioural components are effective in treating childhood obesity,” she said.

“However, success relies heavily on ongoing family attendance.

“Unfortunately, the majority of families referred to such treatment decline and many who do agree to attend subsequently drop out. Such non-attendance impacts negatively on the children and their families, as well as on the health service, due to missed appointments.”

A systematic review of existing research on the issue by Ms Kelleher shows that children agreed to enrol in obesity treatment programmes primarily to have fun and make friends. Others engaged with the expectation of improving their weight and appearance.

“However, the stigma associated with attending these programmes discouraged many other children from attending,” she said.

As well as making the treatment programmes more attractive, Ms Kelleher says that possible barriers to participation should be discussed and resolved in advance with the parents and their children.


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