Parents are being urged to make practical changes to everyday lifestyle habits such as portion sizes, drinks and screen time to make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of children and combat the island’s high levels of childhood overweight and obesity. That was the message from safefood with the launch today of a new public health campaign to help parents take on childhood obesity.
The campaign will feature on television, radio, poster and point of sale advertising and includes a free booklet for parents that will be available nationwide in crèches, health centres, GP surgeries, and from public health nurses and local libraries.
Launching the campaign, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly TD said “Obesity presents a real clinical, social and financial challenge which will have a detrimental legacy lasting decades and which will undoubtedly lead Ireland to an unhealthy and extremely costly, if not unaffordable, future if action is not taken now. I want to encourage everybody to help create generations of healthy children who can enjoy their lives to the full and reach their full potential as they develop into adults by making healthier food choices, by being more active and taking the first steps towards reducing overweight and obesity.”
Speaking at the campaign launch, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald TD said “Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in Europe and Ireland is one of the countries worst affected. The Growing Up in Ireland survey, 2011 which is funded by my Department found that 1 in 4 children as young as 3 years of age are overweight or obese. I particularly welcome this new campaign as it seeks to help parents with very practical tips and ideas for actions they can take. We know from research that tackling obesity in childhood requires a family-centred approach, that is part of a wide ranging multi-agency set of initiatives”
The safefood campaign emphasises the importance of taking on practical changes for the whole family which are sustainable for the long term.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said: “We have based our campaign on strong feedback from parents that they wanted a solutions-based approach. For this phase we’re focusing on reducing portion sizes for children, replacing sugary drinks with water and being realistic about foods that ‘should be’ treat foods. While parents may be somewhat aware of the sugar levels in fizzy drinks, they may not be as aware of the sugar content in juice drinks and cordials, and research tells us they are regularly given to children at mealtimes. The sugar content of these drinks varies enormously and parents need to consider replacing these drinks with water instead”, added Dr. Foley-Nolan.
The three year, all island campaign by safefood in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework in the Republic of Ireland and the ‘Fitter Futures for All’ Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland also reminds parents about the negative health impacts of excess weight in childhood and how this can impact on a child’s quality of life.
Dr Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE said “Parents want what is best for their children, however tackling overweight and obesity is a sensitive and difficult task. A fundamental goal of Healthy Ireland is supporting people to enjoy a healthy and active life. This campaign helps make this a reality by motivating and supporting parents to make healthier choices for their children, and by raising awareness and knowledge among health professionals.”
Chair of the safefood Advisory Board, Ms Lynn Ní Bhaoighealláin said “We all want children to have a bright future and we get them into all sorts of healthy habits, like brushing their teeth or crossing the road safely. This campaign is about supporting parents in making small changes in their everyday family lives.”
At present, approximately 1 in 4 primary¹ school children are overweight or obese. The prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood², with currently 6% of 3 year olds being obese.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Consultant Paediatrician and Clinical Lead for the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles programme at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Dr Sinead Murphy said “With a quarter of children overweight or obese, we need to tackle the issue of childhood obesity head on or our next generation will be beset with significant health problems later in life. Evidence shows that once obesity is established, it is both difficult to reverse and can track into adulthood”.
“Sadly, children who are overweight are at serious risk of becoming adults who are obese. This increases the risk manifold of developing serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers and shortened life-expectancy”, she continued.
Welcoming this initiative by safefood, Dr Darach O’Ciardha, ICGP Spokesperson said “Obesity is one of the conditions where prevention is certainly better than cure. Any move to educate parents about the need to monitor and prevent bad dietary habits which will last a lifetime from developing, is welcome. This initiative is a first step in tackling the ticking time bomb that is rising obesity levels particularly amongst the young.”
The safefood campaign will also be supported on the safefood website safefood.eu and on social media like Facebook and Twitter. To find out more about the campaign including how-to videos from health experts and practical advice and guides for parents, visit: www.safefood.eu.