300.000 Irish children are obese – and health experts now call for ‘no-fry zones’ around schools 2 weeks ago

300.000 Irish children are obese – and health experts now call for ‘no-fry zones’ around schools

1 in 5 Irish children are now so overweight they fall into the 'clinically obese' category a landmark new report has found.

What this means, is that Ireland is now falling behind other European countries in the battle against obesity, and, in fact, we now have one of the fastest rising rates of childhood obesity in the world.

This has prompted health experts to demanded a radical reshaping of the nation's entire "food environment”.

A new study by Dr Janas Harrington of University College Cork (UCC) found that Ireland is not doing enough to protect the health of children and young people, with predictions being that the figure of children considered to be clinically obese could rise by 10,000 per annum unless firm action is taken.

In other words, tougher action is needed, and here is what health experts are suggesting:

  • ‘no-fry zones’ within 400 metres of primary and secondary schools;
  • nutritional standards for schools, including what is sold in tuck shops;
  • establishment of a committee to monitor and evaluate food-related income support programmes for vulnerable population groups;
  • ring-fencing of tax on unhealthy food to subsidise healthy options for disadvantaged groups in the community;
  • implementation of a comprehensive policy on nutrition standards for food and beverage provision in the public sector.

Irish children obese

Dr Harrington said in order to combat and turn the tide on the epidemic of child obesity, Ireland must overhaul the entire “food environment” – ranging from food production, processing and marketing to distribution.

The study also highlighted issues around food marketing, particularly the promotion of unhealthy foods to children via packaging.

The first Irish Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) highlighted how Ireland compared poorly with other countries when it comes to rolling out initiatives such as so-called ‘no-fry zones’, school food policies and measures aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy food to children in the media and online.

The Food-EPI will now serve as a benchmark for monitoring the nation's health and food lifestyle.

It was conducted as part of a wider European project in collaboration with research groups from countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Poland and New Zealand.

“The Government needs to seize an opportunity to improve the diets of the Irish population, prevent obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases by investing in the kind of policies and programmes which have demonstrated success in a number of countries,” explained Dr Harrington.

“The benefits are two-fold – aside from improving the health of the general population, these measures are highly cost-effective, and in the long-run can help counteract the rising healthcare costs associated with obesity and diet-related-non communicable diseases.”