Speeches

Minister Wallace addresses the Inaugural Seminar of the Nutrition and Health Foundation: “Positive Approaches to Obesity”

As Minister for Health Promotion and Food Safety, I am very pleased to be here today to open the Inaugural Seminar of the Nutrition and Health Foundation on the subject “Positive Approaches to Obesity”.

You have a very interesting programme for the morning which presents an opportunity to make a useful contribution towards tackling one of the major health problems facing the nation and indeed the entire developed world. Tackling the problem of obesity is one of my key priorities and I welcome the open debate and discussion that this seminar will no doubt bring to the subject and may ideally provide us with some key pointers going forward.

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. 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 am making this issue 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. A key sector in this is of course the food industry. The industry, at all levels, from research, production and marketing has an enormous influence on our diet and we must engage with them more if we are to tackle obesity successfully.

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, I have, since becoming Minister written to the relevant colleagues in Government on this issue. I intend to work closely with Government colleagues for the continued implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce as they affect both my own and other Government Departments.

I know that Brian Mullen will be speaking to you in some detail on the Obesity Taskforce Report.

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, up to 18 years, and the priority actions address 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 promote national and all-island actions to promote healthy eating and reduce overweight and obesity in young people.
•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 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.

Physical Activity

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. This included the appointment in 2006 of ‘physical activity co-ordinators’ throughout the country to promote physical activity amongst the population.

My Department has put in place a number of 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 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 many ways 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.

‘Little Steps’ Campaign

I was particularly pleased to launch the “Little Steps Go A Long Way” campaign last June. This 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.

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. You will have seen these adverts on television, which very cleverly promote positive parental attitudes to physical activity and healthy eating.

North/South Obesity Conference

In the context of North/South co-operation, I will be attending an All-Island Obesity Conference in Belfast in November. This conference, organised jointly by the Northern Ireland Health Promotion Agency and the HSE, will look at ways of addressing the challenges presented by the increase in obesity levels on an all-island basis.

Conclusion

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 we can and will achieve our aims and objectives.

Thank You.