A new cross-political party Oireachtas group was launched last week to tackle childhood obesity and food poverty.
RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, and Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) spokesman and Consultant Endocrinologist at St Vincent’s and Loughlinstown Hospitals in Dublin, Prof Donal O’Shea, launched the Oireachtas Children’s Future Health Group, which is chaired by Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout.
The group is being established at a time when one-in-four children in Ireland is overweight or obese and one-in-five goes to bed hungry at night. The IHF is providing a secretariat, along with expertise to support the Group, which is also backed by the Children’s Rights Alliance, Healthy Food for All and Social Justice Ireland.
Members of the group include Senator Ivana Bacik (Labour), Deputy Clare Daly (Technical Group), Deputy Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil), Deputy Sandra McLellan (Sinn Féin) and Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor (Fine Gael). They plan to examine, among other topics, taxation to fund programmes such as fruit and vegetable subsidies and community food initiatives, the provision of school meals, ‘no fry’ zones around schools, the impact of low incomes on healthy eating, food labelling and the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children. Later this year, the group will publish findings of the first ever study on food marketing to children via the internet and social media, currently being conducted for the IHF.
Senator van Turnhout said: “To date actions to tackle obesity have focused on individual behaviour change through education, awareness and media programmes. But these don’t take into account the key drivers of obesity — the increasing availability and intense marketing of unhealthy food and drinks that are becoming cheaper all the time compared to healthy produce.
“Meanwhile, as the numbers living in food poverty grow, health workers are seeing more and more children who are obese and undernourished at the same time — a phenomenon of modern malnutrition.”
She said their objective was to develop proposals for actions that tackle the root causes of childhood obesity — that particularly recognising the condition must be addressed in tandem with food poverty, primarily targeted at disadvantaged communities.
Prof O’Shea said he believed cross-party support would ensure implementation of the Healthy Ireland Framework beyond the life of this Government. “It is really hard to understand why there has been so little sustained action to tackle obesity to date,” he commented.
“It is the number one public health issue facing the developed world in terms of driving diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily even in children with boys and girls in primary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, painful joint conditions and rapidly increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes.”
By June Shannon