worrying stats Calls for 'no-fry zones' around schools as one in five kids in Ireland obese
Ireland is falling behind other European countries in the battle against obesity as a new report urged a radical reshaping of the nation's 'food environment'.
The study by Dr Janas Harrington of University College Cork (UCC) has proposed tough new measures to protect the health of future generations.
Ireland now has one of the fastest rising rates of childhood obesity in the world.
One in five Irish children are now considered to be obese with the surge in weight-related health issues at near epidemic levels.
Some 300,000 Irish children are clinically obese, with that figure expected to rise by 10,000 per annum unless firm action is taken.
The UCC study found Ireland was falling behind best international practice.
It recommended five major policy changes including:
- No-fry zones within 400m of schools.
- Nutritional standards for schools, including tuck shops.
- A committee to monitor and evaluate food-related income support for vulnerable population groups.
- Ring-fencing of tax on unhealthy food to subsidise healthy options for disadvantaged groups.
- A policy on nutrition standards for food and beverage provision in the public sector.
Dr Harrington said Ireland had to overhaul the entire 'food environment' - ranging from food production, processing and marketing, to distribution.
The study also highlighted issues over food marketing, particularly the promotion of unhealthy foods to children via packaging.
The Irish Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) highlighted how Ireland compared poorly with other countries when it comes to initiatives such as 'no fry zones', school food policies and measures aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
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," Dr Harrington said.
"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."
Food-EPI is an initiative of the INFORMAS Network (International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support) and was conducted between January 2018 to June 2020 with a panel of independent and government public health experts.
The panel consisted of 20 representatives from academia, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Safefood, HSE and charities.
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