Speech for Minister Moloney for Official Opening of Outdoor public gym in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo
According to the recent SLÁN – Survey of Lifestyle Attitudes and Nutrition in Ireland nearly a quarter of the Irish population are not physically active at all and another quarter are not active enough for good health.
Research shows that physical activity can reduce the risk of a range of other illnesses such as diabetes, colon cancer and hypertension. It reduces the risk of obesity and promotes mental health. It builds and maintains healthy bones, muscles and joints. This in turn reduces the risk of injury from falls and increases functional independence. Taking up physical activity has a protective and beneficial effect. This applies to people of all ages from the very young.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity has been described by the World Health Organisation as an epidemic. Ireland is no different from other countries in terms of obesity trends. Obesity is a complex condition that affects and threatens to overwhelm virtually all age and socio-economic groups. The importance of addressing and halting the rise in obesity is critical. As we are all aware, overweight and obesity contribute to a significant number of illnesses including, high blood pressure, 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.
A key recommendation of the Obesity Task Force which reported in 2005 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.
With regard to increasing levels of physical activity we have already been proactive. We have responded in a variety of ways through many successful programmes and initiatives. “Little Steps”, the Health Promotion Public Awareness Campaign on Obesity in 2008 was launched last month. This is an island of Ireland Campaign with Safefood and the HSE, working together to raise awareness of the growing problem of obesity and how we might address it. The Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland has joined the Campaign too.
The investment by the Government in recent years has improved the infrastructure to address physical inactivity. This included the appointment, for the first time, of physical activity co-ordinators throughout the country to promote physical activity amongst the population.
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.