Press Release

Ninety-three recommendations to tackle obesity presented to Government

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern TD, was today presented with the Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity, which includes recommendations on banning vending machines in primary schools, a new education and training programme for health professionals, guidelines for food labelling, an examination of fiscal policy and its impact on overweight and obesity, and guidelines for the detection and treatment of overweight and obesity.

The recommendations are contained in the report – Obesity the Policy Challenges – and are aimed at tackling the obesity epidemic which, it is estimated, is responsible for around 2,000 premature deaths in Ireland, each year.

The report highlighted the need for ‘joined-up’ policy, cross collaboration between all key stakeholders and real practical engagement by both the public and the private sectors.

John Treacy, Chairman of the National Taskforce on Obesity said that the taskforce was particularly concerned that childhood obesity has become one of the most prevalent childhood diseases in Europe, with overweight and obesity affecting over 300,000 children in Ireland alone. “Irish lifestyles in terms of diet and a decline in workplace or recreational activity have changed dramatically over the past 60 years. There is no doubt but that we have a major challenge on our hands and successfully tackling the problem can only be achieved by a concerted effort across all sectors of society, public, private and commercial, and the Taskforce is unanimous in its view that the recommendations outlined in this report are realistic and achievable.”

The Taoiseach acknowledged the major piece of work that was undertaken by the Taskforce and commended the members on their broad vision and insight into tackling the problem. “Obesity and overweight are problems that are affecting millions of people all over the world and in Ireland, we recognise that the prevalence of overweight adults has increased dramatically, particularly over the past ten years and that remedial action must be taken to abate the problem.

“Government is taking a proactive approach to the issue and in the same way that Ireland led the way for the rest of the world with its Smoke-Free at Work legislation, it is my hope that we can take a leadership role in relation to the promotion of healthy eating and active living.

“The establishment of the National Taskforce on Obesity is the most important, fundamental step that the government could take in order to progress our battle against obesity. I welcome the approach which has been made by the Taskforce and the robust, wide-ranging recommendations contained within. I recognise multi-sectoral collaboration and cooperation as the optimum way forward and will be prioritising this as the most effective means of approach.”

The National Taskforce on Obesity was established by the Department of Health and Children in March 2004, as a direct response to the emerging problem of overweight and obesity in Ireland, particularly in children.

Its recommendations, 93 in total, relate to actions across six broad sectors: high-level government; education; social and community; health; food, commodities, production and supply and the physical environment.

Key recommendations include:

High-level government

The Taoiseach’s office should take the lead responsibility and provide an integrated and consistent proactive approach to addressing overweight and obesity and to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National Strategy on Obesity in conjunction with all government departments, relevant bodies and agencies, industry and consumer groups.

The Department of Finance should carry out research to examine the influence of fiscal policies on consumer purchasing and their impact on overweight and obesity, for example risk-benefits assessment of taxation that supports healthy eating and active living and subsidies for healthy food such as fruit and vegetables.

Ireland should play an advocacy role within the European Union to reform policies relating to healthy eating and active living among those that govern activities relating to global trade and the regulation of marketing and advertising of food to children.

Education sector

Vending machines should be banned in primary schools

A clear code of practice in relation to the provision and content of vending machines in post primary should be developed by industry, the Department of Education and Science and schools’ bodies.

Every child should be able to achieve a minimum of 30mins dedicated physical activity, every day, in all educational settings.

All schools, as part of their school development planning, should be encouraged to develop consistent school policies to promote healthy eating and active living, with the necessary support from the Department of Education and Science. Such policies should address opportunities for physical activity and what is being provided in school meals.

All schools should meet the minimum requirement of two hours of physical education per week, delivered by appropriately qualified staff.

Social and community sectors

The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism should co-ordinate with the Department of Education and Science the shared use of sports and physical activity facilities between schools and communities.

Community skills-based programmes should be developed which provide skills such as food preparation, household budgeting, and those skills which have the potential to promote physical activity.

Health sector

The health services, in their strategic planning and delivery, should advocate and lead a change in emphasis from the primacy of individual responsibility to environments that support healthy food choices and regular physical activity.

An education and training programme for health professionals in the appropriate and sensitive management of overweight and obesity should be developed and implemented. Programmes should include training in developing life skills for healthy eating and active living and counselling.

Food, commodities, production and supply

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Health and Children, together with the private sector and consumer groups should immediately take multi-sectoral action on the marketing and advertising of products that contribute to weight gain, in particular those aimed at children.

The Department of Agriculture and Food should review policies in partnership with other government departments to promote access to healthy food. Such policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products.

Guidelines for food and nutrition labelling should be reviewed to ensure that labelling is accurate, consistent, user-friendly and contains information on portion sizes and nutrient content.

Physical environment

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should develop coherent planning policies for urban/rural housing, transport, amenity spaces and workplace settings to encourage spontaneous increases in physical activity in adults and children.

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority should examine the high costs of public liability and their impact on physical activity. It should foster initiatives to address these costs.

The Taskforce is confident that the Report will assist those who are involved in developing policy as well as those who plan, manage and deliver services.

The Report will be brought to Cabinet by Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Seán Power TD.

Obesity facts

Obesity occurs because calorie intake exceeds calorie consumption and it a modern day phenomenon because calorie expenditure has decreased over the past half century.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity has been described by the WHO as a global epidemic.

In 2000, more that 300 million people worldwide were obese and it is now projected that by 2025, up to half the population of the US will be obese if current trends are maintained.

The WHO estimates that physical inactivity causes approximately 2 million deaths each year.

In Ireland, 18% of adults are obese and 39% are overweight.

Body weight is now the most prevalent childhood disease in Europe.

Data suggests that there could be more than 300,000 overweight and obese children on the island of Ireland and the rate is rising at a probable 10,000 per annum.

In economic terms, around €30million has been estimated for in-patient costs alone in 2003 for a number of Irish hospitals.

The indirect cost of obesity in Ireland is estimated at €0.4billion, per annum.

Overweight or obesity contribute to the following illnesses; hypertension; type 2 diabetes; excess cholesterol; stroke; cardiovascular disease; hypertension; gallstones; gout; osteoarthritis; obstructive sleep apnoea; respiratory problems; some types of cancer; complications of pregnancy; poor female reproductive health; bladder control problems and psychological disorders.

The vision of the Taskforce is expressed as: An Irish society that enables people through health promotion, prevention and care to achieve and maintain healthy eating and active living throughout their lifespan.

Its high-level goals are expressed as follows:

The Taoiseach’s Office will ensure that an integrated, consistent and proactive approach will be taken across all government departments, agencies and public bodies in addressing the problem of overweight/obesity.

The private sector has an important role; it acknowledges it has a responsibility and will be proactive in addressing the issue of overweight/obesity.

The public sector, the private sector and the community and voluntary sectors should work in partnership to promote healthy eating and active living to address overweight/obesity.

Individuals should be personally empowered to tackle overweight/obesity and sensitive interventions should be developed to support them.

Membership of the National Taskforce on Obesity

  • Mr John Treacy; Irish Sports Council (Chair)
  • Ms Debbie Corradino; National Nutrition Surveillance Centre
  • Mr Brian Dowling; Health Promotion Unit
  • 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 & Dietetic Institute
  • Prof Cecily Kelleher; University College Dublin
  • Ms Marie Kennedy; National Children’s Office
  • Dr Marie Laffoy; Directors of Public Health
  • Ms Fiona Lalor; Food, Drink & Tobacco Federation, IBEC
  • Dr Patrick Magovern; Irish College of General Practitioners
  • Mr Michael Maloney; Bord Bia
  • Ms Deirdre Mulholland; National Nutrition Surveillance Centre
  • Ms Maureen Mulvihill; Irish Heart Foundation
  • Ms Celine Murrin; National Nutrition Surveillance Centre
  • Ms Oilbhe O’Donoghue; Health Promotion Unit
  • Ms Ursula O’Dwyer; Consultant Dietitian, Department of Health and Children
  • Donal O’Gorman; Exercise & Sports Science Association of Ireland
  • Mr John Mark O’Riordan; Tower Medical Centre
  • Dr Donal O’Shea; Endocrinologist, Loughlinstown Hospital
  • Ms Frances Shiely; National Nutrition Surveillance Centre
  • Mr Thomas Quigley; Safe Food, Food Safety Promotion Board
  • Dr Geraldine Quinn; Safe Food, 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

Definition of obesity

The World Health Organisation has defined obesity according to body mass index – BMI (weight in kilos divided by height squared in metres).

 

BMI
Normal 20-25
Overweight 25-30
Obesity Grade 1 30-35
Grade 2 35-40
Grade 3 >40

 

BMI = weight/height m2