Address by Ms Mary Wallace TD, Minister of State, Department of Health and Children at the Launch: The Joint HSE/Safefood Obesity Awareness Campaign

I am delighted to be here this morning to launch the “Little Steps Go A Long Way”, joint all island Obesity Awareness Campaign organised by the HSE and Safefood in collaboration with the Health Promotion Agency, Northern Ireland.


The prevalence of overweight and obesity has been described by the World Health Organisation as an epidemic and one of the most serious public health challenges facing mankind. Ireland is no different from other countries in terms of obesity trends.

•39% of Irish adults are overweight and 18% are obese and this trend is increasing by at least 1% every year.
•According to the SLAN Survey, obesity rates rose in Irish men from 11% in 1998 to 14% in 2002 and inn women from 9% in 1998 to 12% in 2002.

Obesity is a complex condition that significantly impacts on all ages and socio-economic groups. The importance of addressing and halting the rise in obesity is critical and as Minister for Health Promotion I intend to address this issue as one of my top priorities.

As we are all aware, overweight and obesity contribute to a number of illnesses, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, excess cholesterol, and of course cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Actions taken to halt the rise in obesity must target both nutrition and physical activity and the broader determinants of obesity.

Taskforce on Obesity

The National Taskforce on Obesity 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. In fact the report acted as a catalyst to the introduction of inter-sectoral working. Recognising the need to take a coherent ‘whole of Government’ approach to the wider determinants of health, and in particular to tackling the obesogenic environment, my Department sought and got approval to the establishment of a high level inter-departmental group. This group will report directly to a Cabinet sub-committee. I am also proposing to take these matters up on a bilateral basis with other Government Departments to ensure that there is a clear understanding of all of the issues that need to be tackled if we are to address obesity seriously. I will work for continued implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce across other government Departments through this mechanism.

The Report of the Obesity Taskforce identified obesity as a key threat to the health of people on the island of Ireland. Today’s initiative represents true cooperation by the key agencies charged with promoting health, healthy diets, physical activity and healthy lifestyles. I welcome this campaign, which through research, TV and radio adverts, online advertising and leaflets, aims to tackle this important issue.

National Nutrition Policy

A key recommendation of the Obesity Taskforce was the development of a national nutrition policy. My Department is currently finalising this policy which will provide strategic direction on nutrition for the next ten years. The target group is young people, 0-18 years, and the priority actions are obesity and food poverty. The key strategic objectives of the policy are:

•To increase the percentage of young people in schools who consume the recommended daily servings of food groups for a healthy diet and to help prevent overweight and obesity.
•To facilitate an increase in the percentage of parents providing healthy food choices in the home.
•To increase fruit and vegetable intake among young people.
•To increase provision of information and training to key players to tackle poor nutrition among young people in Ireland.
•To promote national and all-island actions to facilitate healthy eating and to help prevent overweight and obesity in young people.
•To promote EU and global actions to reduce overweight and obesity in young people.
•To develop and manage initiatives to care for overweight young people and prevent them from making the transition to obesity.

A national consultation has taken place and we plan to publish the first National Nutrition Policy in the autumn.

Physical Activity

60% of Irish adults do not participate in enough activity for health benefits and 22% of the population are completely inactive. With regard to increasing levels of physical activity we have already been proactive. The investment by the Government in recent years has put much of the infrastructure in place to address physical inactivity, including playgrounds, skateboard parks, cycle paths and walkways and various sports facilities. This investment also included the appointment in 2006 of physical activity co-ordinators throughout the country to promote physical activity amongst the population.

We have responded in a variety of ways through many successful programmes and initiatives. These include the publication of a National Play Policy document for Children, entitled ‘Ready, Steady, Play’. The National Children’s Office is currently working on the development of a National Recreation Policy for 12-18 year olds. The HSE is currently developing physical activity guidelines, which will be relevant to the Irish population. These are expected to be available later this year.

HSE Actions

The HSE is actively engaged in implementing the recommendations of the Obesity Taskforce. This includes expanding clinical services, investing in the primary care setting, commissioning research, developing strategic alliances and developing guidelines on prevention and management of childhood overweight and obesity.

New Campaign

The “Little Steps Go A Long Way” campaign being launched today is an all island campaign led by the HSE, Safefood and the Health Promotion Agency of Northern Ireland. These agencies are working together with a common agenda of raising awareness of the growing problem of obesity and how we might address it. This partnership will support achieving maximum impact from the campaign and value for money for all involved.

The aim of this campaign is to support parents and guardians as positive role models for their children in relation to healthy eating and physical activity. The target audience is parents and guardians of children of school going age. Parents are the primary role models for their children. As with other aspects of living, if parents eat healthy and live healthy lifestyles, research has shown that their children will grow up with the same good habits. The main objective of the campaign is to encourage positive parental attitudes to physical activity and healthy eating. This campaign will raise awareness of obesity. It will at the same time give motivating messages on how to prevent obesity by being more active and by eating a healthy diet.


As Minister with responsibility for Health Promotion I am committed to continuing programmes and initiating policies to promote healthy lifestyles. Working in partnership with public and private sectors, in particular with the food industry, through North-South co-operation and with the support and commitment of the Government and the public I believe many individuals, parents, teenagers and young people will achieve very positive outcomes from this important work. I wish the campaign every success.

Thank You