Overweight children a €4bn a year problem

THE nation’s obsession with over-eating has led to more than two in five children being either obese or overweight as part of a growing problem costing €4 billion per year.

Obesity is being blamed for at least 2,000 deaths each year in Ireland. Just three out of 10 children are getting the recommended amount of physical activity — even though seven out of 10 parents believe their kids are doing enough.

Meanwhile, one in five families eat the majority of their meals in front of the television, while about half of parents prepare separate meals for their children.

Children spend almost as much time at sedentary activities such as watching TV and surfing the web, as they do engaging in any type of physical activity.

Research into children’s eating habits and physical activity levels was published yesterday to coincide with the launch of an all-island campaign aimed at tackling the obesity problem.

Obesity is thought to be causing at least 2,000 deaths per year, at a cost of €4 billion.

The new Little Steps Go A Long Way campaign was described yesterday as “a major awareness initiative” involving television, radio and internet advertising to show that small changes to physical activity and food habits will have a big impact on health, and on the levels of people who are either overweight or obese.

The campaign is being promoted by Safefood, the HSE and Northern Ireland’s Health Promotion Agency.

Described as “one of the most serious public health challenges” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the problem of obesity is at epidemic proportions among adults and children across the island of Ireland and is set to continue growing at a rate of 1% every year.

A report from the Government’s obesity taskforce identified childhood obesity as a key threat to the future health of people on the island of Ireland.

HSE assistant national director for population health Catherine Murphy said that physical activity has a positive effect on people’s overall health and not just their body weight.

“It is now very clear that it is not about severe or fad diets, nor is it about running a marathon, but little steps along the way to a healthier future,” she said.

Research has shown that the majority of mothers of overweight or obese children think that their children’s weight is fine for their age, according to Ms Murphy, “and those who may realise that there is a problem feel overwhelmed by it and think the challenge is too great to tackle”.

Research for the campaign revealed that 6 in 10 parents find it a struggle getting their children to eat healthy food.

According to Safefood director of human health and nutrition Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan there is evidence that children’s eating habits mirror those of their parents and children of normal weight parents are more likely themselves to have a normal weight.

“Yet our research has revealed that almost half of all parents prepare a separate meal for their children. Almost 20% of families eat their meals in front of the TV more than four times a week and there is evidence to suggest eating meals in front of the TV is associated with poorer eating habits,” said Dr Foley Nolan.



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