Press Release

Minister for Health and Children launches National Taskforce on Obesity

“Obesity is becoming one of the fastest growing health problems in Ireland. One in eight Irish people are obese and every second person is overweight. As a result, half of the population is at an increased risk of developing a chronic health condition such as cardiovascular disease unless we make it easier for people to address their food and activity habits” according to the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin TD, today (10th March), during his launch of the National Taskforce on Obesity.

The Minister highlighted the 30% increase in the prevalence of reported obesity levels over the last four years in Ireland. He also highlighted that Ireland’s experience is not unique with obesity in Europe now five times more common, than it was after the Second World War.

The Minister highlighted that we know that the key causes of obesity are linked to food and physical activity habits – but what is needed is to identify a solution to halt the rise and reverse the prevalence of obesity in society.

The Minister singled out obesity in childhood as a particular priority, with one in five Irish boys and girls now overweight and one in twenty are obese. The Minister said that “given a child is twice as likely to be an obese adult, if obese in childhood” it is important for their health and to avert a future health crisis that we target resources to prevent and respond to obesity in children.

To halt the rise and reverse the prevalence of obesity in children and adults we need to make it easier for everyone to eat healthy foods and be more active.

This requires a societal approach and cross sectoral working. It requires that we work together to:

  • promote an active lifestyle;
  • limit television viewing;
  • promote the intake of fruit and vegetables;
  • restrict the intake of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods such as packaged snacks;
  • restrict the intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks;
  • detect and respond appropriately to children at risk at an early age; and
  • treat appropriately those who are obese.

In response to this need the Minister formally launched Ireland´s National Taskforce on Obesity, which will be ably chaired by the Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council, Mr. John Treacy.

The role of the Taskforce includes assessing the impact of current obesity trends, and to set out a strategic framework, that:

  • encompasses the determinants of overweight and obesity,
  • identifies best practice for prevention, detection and treatment, and
  • creates the social and physical environments that makes it easier for children and adults to eat more healthily and be more active on a regular basis.

In most cases, obesity is preventable but it is no longer enough to rely on individuals to choose a healthier lifestyle, particularly when there are so many other powerful factors affecting personal choices.

“We must attempt to alter the environmental factors which influence personal choices and behaviour” said the Minister. This will involve co-operation from the food and drinks industry; Government agencies; the family; schools and many other groups who have an influence on lifestyle choices.

Early prevention is key; children´s natural inclination is to be active and energetic. The Minister stressed that we must provide opportunities for children to encourage them to be more physically active as well as understanding the benefits of and having access to, healthy food choices.

Commenting at the launch, John Treacy Chairman said; “Over the past ten years, lifestyles have changed. As a nation we are eating more and leading busier but less active lives. This change has contributed to an increase in obesity levels.”

“The National Taskforce on Obesity is charged with addressing this serious issue as a matter of some urgency and all members are committed to presenting the Minister with a realistic, achievable and measurable strategy that, when implemented, will impact positively upon the health of the nation.”

The new National Taskforce on Obesity has undertaken to present an obesity strategy document, to the Minister, by the end of the year.

Obesity – the facts

  • Obesity accounts for at least 2,500 deaths in Ireland, each year.
  • Increasing obesity is associated with increasing mortality.
  • Obesity is directly associated with a number of serious diseases including diabetes, heart disease, many forms of cancer and high blood pressure.
  • In Ireland, 47% of people report being overweight or obese (13% obese, 34% overweight; SLÁN 2003).
  • Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in men in the EU and the seventh highest prevalence among women.

Membership of the National Taskforce on Obesity:

Mr John Treacy, Irish Sports Council (Chair)
Dr Will Fennell, Irish Heart Foundation
Mr Chris Fitzgerald; Health Promotion Unit
Dr Brian Gaffney; Health Promotion Agency of Northern Ireland
Ms Jacky Jones; Health Promotion Managers, from Health Boards
Ms Siobhan Julian; Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute
Cecily Kelleher, Professor of Health Promotion, University College Galway
Ms Marie Kennedy / Mr Robert Deegan; National Children´s Office
Dr Marie Laffoy; Directors of Public Health
Ms Fiona Lalor; Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation, IBEC
Dr Patrick Magovern; Irish College of General Practitioners
Mr Michael Moloney, An Bord Glas
Ms Ursula O´Dwyer; Consultant Dietetian, Department of Health and Children
Donal O´Gorman; Exercise & Sports Science Association of Ireland
Dr Donal O´Shea; Endocrinologist, Loughlinstown Hospital
Dr Thomas Quigley, Director of Science, Safe Food – the Food Safety Promotion Board
Mr Alan Reilly; Food Safety Authority of Ireland
Dr Helen Whelton; Oral Health Services Research Centre
Dr Jane Wilde; Institute of Public Health Representative

Minister´s Speech