North Tipperary county councillor Virginia O’Dowd addressed the Labour Party’s annual in Kerry conference last weekend on a motion dealing with child obesity and the need to tackle the problem.
The motion called on the Government to treat obesity as a top priority, to provide the resources and support to the Department for Children and Youth Affairs in implementing their policy for combating the trend in obesity and lack of exercise in children.
The motion drew on the 2011 Growing up in Ireland report that found that 26 per cent of nine-year-olds had a body mass index outside the healthy range and 19 per cent of those were defined as overweight and 7 per cent as obese.
Cllr O’Dowd, who spoke live on RTE television, said: “I would just like you to reflect on those figures and the implications they have for the future health of the nation and for the future health care services of Ireland.
These figures show we are literally sitting on a health time bomb and if the problem is not tackled now we will face physical and psychological problems that will have a massive impact on health spending, health care and the wellbeing of the nation.
“We will be looking at increases in diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, to name but two of the physical fallouts.
From a psychological point we will be looking at people developing low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to other problems such as mental health issues.
“I know the Department of Health, in conjunction with the Department of Youth Affairs set up the Special Action Group on Obesity in October 2012 and that is looking at recommendations and formulating a policy on combating obesity.
Among the areas they have examined are taxes on sweetened drinks, calorie counts on menus and the impact of leading more sedentary lives on our lives. It has been left to the food industry to voluntarily include calorie counts on menus. Figures show that 96 per cent of the population wants to see that done, with 73 per cent in the food industry in favour of it. I hope we are looking at holding out a very juicy carrot instead of a stick to persuade more in the food industry to accept the idea.
“We now need to see the outcomes of their findings being put in place.
“We need to make sure all our children have access to physical education at primary and secondary school. We also need to encourage more people – and not just students – to walk and cycle to school or work. We need to encourage our children to move away from the PlayStation and concentrate more on the play end of growing up.
“Of course, it is also important to tackle the problem of poor dietary habits, to encourage people to cook healthy food. Some of us can remember being told by our parents to “eat up your greens”. Having a balanced diet is important to having a healthy lifestyle. We need to target those groups – age and societal – where obesity may be more common. “There is a link between poverty and poor diet. However, there is also a link between education and poor diet. We have seen how education can change our attitudes to alcohol and tobacco. We can do the same with food and exercise.
“However, we also need to teach people, parents especially, how to recognize the symptoms of over eating and obesity. We need a forum for people to be able to talk about. We need people to know that there is help available.
“As the saying goes, health is wealth. Our children are the health and wealth of this country. If we breed a generation of people with poor health, we will be in danger of breeding a generation that will not be able to realise its full potential.
“That is why I am asking you to support this motion and to ensure that all the necessary resources are in place to implement the recommendations of the Special Action Group on Obesity. We also need to give full support to the National Physical Activity Plan being considered by the Department of Health and the action group.”