Speeches

Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children on the occasion of the launch of the new Focus on Fruit Campaign

Introduction

I am delighted to be with you today to launch a new healthy eating promotion, which is a joint initiative between the Health Promotion Unit of my Department and Bord Glas.

The new promotion – Focus on Fruit – is a natural progression of both my Department´s annual National Healthy Eating Campaign, which ran very successfully for the past ten years, and the annual Bord Glas Fruit and Vegetable campaigns.

2003 Campaign

The promotional theme “Fast Fruit the Tasty Way to Snack” simply encapsulates, what this week and indeed every week, should be about.

Our joint aim is to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables and due to its seasonality – the particular emphasis for June is on fruit.

Our messages focus on the importance of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet. Eating one or more extra portions of fruit, vegetables or fruit juice each day is key, so that nationally we meet the agreed daily recommendation of four or more portions. Our promotional materials highlight that fruit is the ultimate “fast food” being convenient, affordable, nutritious, ready to eat and is tasty and healthy.

This year, we want to go one step further with our campaign objectives. In addition to creating awareness for the health and other benefits of fruit, we want to encourage people to make a tangible behavioural change by incorporating more fruit into their daily eating patterns. Furthermore, the practical nature of this campaign will demonstrate how this can actually be achieved.

SLÁN Survey

Recent studies, carried out on behalf of my Department, indicate that adults are increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables. However, since 1998, reported fruit consumption has declined sharply by almost half among school-going children. Similarly vegetable consumption has declined among school children, but not as markedly as for fruit.

Furthermore, the second National Health and Lifestyle Survey (SLÁN), published in April this year, has alerted us to the fact that consumption of the recommended daily guidelines, amongst children, is unacceptably low.

Only 36% of school girls eat more than one portion of fruit daily. Even fewer boys, 29%, report eating the same amount.

The trend is similar for vegetables, with 43% of girls reporting consumption of one or more portions each day and just 37% of boys reporting a similar consumption pattern.

The health benefits of fruit and vegetables are well documented and research has shown that they are widely known. Yet, our young people are still, for the most part, making unhealthier choices, which long-term, can be detrimental to overall good health.

It is heartening to note however, that SLÁN reported a correlation between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and a wide range of positive health behaviour patterns, amongst young people.

The study found that young people who report eating greater amounts of fruit and vegetables than their peers, report better patterns of health behaviour and levels of health. This applies to physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and general feelings of well-being.

Today, I have one simple message, that is achievable and obvious. I urge everyone, but young people in particular, to Focus on Fruit and try eating just one extra portion of fruit today, and every day.

Materials and Activities

Together with Bord Glas, we have produced a selection of useful materials including the Focus on Fruit leaflet, in addition to recipe leaflets and fact sheets.

The Focus on Fruit leaflet, of which almost half a million copies have been distributed, is available free of charge from local Health Boards and many supermarkets around the country.

Local Health Board initiatives will form a major part of this promotion, with a wide range of activities taking place with local media, schools, retailers, hospitals and work places.

I would like to pay tribute to the Health Board staff and in particular, the Health Promotion Managers and the Community Dietitians who have worked so hard and with such enthusiasm during this and previous years, on our healthy eating campaigns.

Their effort has not been in vain, as over the last ten years, we have successfully created awareness for the healthy eating message amongst almost 60% of the Irish population. This is without the benefit of advertising and is indicative of what is being done all around the country, at community level.

We know that public awareness campaigns can affect change. Independent research carried out in the wake of previous healthy eating campaigns demonstrated that of those people who were aware of the campaign message, one in three was influenced to change their eating habits as a direct result.

Health Promotion Strategy

Cardiovascular diseases and cancers cause 2 out of every 3 deaths in Ireland. People´s lifestyle choices are directly related to the prevalence of these diseases. A major challenge for society therefore is to prevent these diseases through making the healthy choice the easy choice. The Government’s Strategy in this regard is mapped out in the Health Strategy, Quality & Fairness (2001) and the Health Promotion Strategy(2000 – 2005). Our objectives include:

  • promoting healthy eating habits among young people and school going children,
  • facilitating the development and implementation of a national healthy weight strategy, and
  • working in partnership with lower socio-economic groups to develop and adapt eating well programmes.

My Department is committed to the promotion of healthy eating. As part of helping to ensure that nationally, we reap the benefits available from fruit and vegetable consumption and healthy eating, generally, we will continue to promote balanced eating habits. They are fundamental to a healthy lifestyle and essential to long-term health.

Obesity

At the launch of the second SLÁN survey in April, I highlighted a worrying trend, which is emerging in Ireland, which pertains to the increase in levels of obesity.

Today, there are almost as many people who are obese or overweight as there are people who maintain recommended weight levels. There are numerous environmental, social and lifestyle factors, which have a bearing on this trend, but as Minister for Health and Children, I intend to priortise this issue for particular attention.

Obesity and overweight can lead to an increase in the incidence of diabetes and coronary disease. In many cases, these problems can be prevented through a change in lifestyle behaviour that includes adherence to the healthy eating guidelines and by being physically active.

In conjunction with our healthy eating programmes, my Department will be implementing a programme to encourage increased levels of physical activity nationally. Children in particular will be a key target of health promotion campaigns as it is imperative that we help to introduce and establish good lifestyle habits, early.

Other Healthy Eating Initiatives

In addition to our current Focus on Fruit Campaign, a number of other policy initiatives are being developed or are currently underway including:

  • Healthy Catering Guidelines for Staff and Visitors in Healthcare Facilities,
  • Minimum Nutritional Standards for Acute Hospitals,
  • Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Pre-schools and
  • Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Primary Schools.

The Government has invested substantially in developing a dietetic service at health board level and there has been a substantial increase in the number of both community dietitians and hospital based dietitians over the past three years.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to thank our many partners for their on-going, invaluable support and in particular our partners in this year´s promotion, Bord Glas.

I would also like to extend my gratitude and thanks to Bord Bia and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Chambers of Commerce, the Association of Teachers of Home Economics, the Irish Countrywomen´s Association, and members of the retail food sector, many of whom have kindly agreed to support us and distribute our campaign literature. I would also like to thank Fyffes and Keelings, both of whom kindly donated thousands of fruit portions in support of this year´s campaign.

Again, thank you to all my Health Board colleagues who really help to elevate the awareness of the healthy eating message and my colleagues at the Health Promotion Unit who are instrumental in ensuring that these campaigns are implemented.

Ladies and gentlemen, please play your part by encouraging family and friends to make healthy eating part of their lifestyle choices and for this month in particular, to Focus on Fruit.

Thank You.