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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 21 March, 2018

Ireland still 'on course to become the most obese nation in Europe'

A new survey has found that at least one in five children are overweight or obese.

File photo
File photo
Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

THE LEVELS OF childhood obesity in Ireland is beginning to stabilise, but remain a major cause for concern according to a new survey released by the HSE in collaboration with UCD researchers.

The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) shows that around one in five children are overweight or obese, more girls than boys are overweight and children attending DEIS schools are far more likely to be overweight or obese.

Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said that the “unfortunate truth is that we are on course to become the most obese nation in Europe, unless we take action now”.

Worrying trends

This was the fourth time that the COSI survey has been carried out since 2008. As part of this 2015 survey, 4,909 children from 138 participated.

Since 2008, key trends identified in the COSI survey include the levels of overweight and obesity in children aged 6-12 appear to be stabilising, but not for children in DEIS schools.

hse 1 Source: HSE

Furthermore, there is a marked difference across genders with girls tending to be more overweight and obese than boys.

hse 2 Source: HSE

While, as a whole, levels of children being overweight and obese are stabilising, the numbers are still a cause for concern, according to Sarah O’Brien, HSE national lead for the Healthy Eating Active Living Programme.

She said: “While it is positive that the levels of excess weight in children appears to be levelling off over time, it remains at quite a high level – with at least one in five children carrying excess weight that will damage their health both now and into the future.”

Disadvantaged schools

One group of children where the problem of obesity is not stabilising, however, is in those that attend DEIS schools.

Schools operating under DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) are mostly based in urban, more disadvantaged areas.

The report links economic disadvantage with higher levels of children overweight and obese, and this is manifest in its figures.

Children in DEIS schools tend to have higher rates of overweight and obesity, and the gap widens as children get older:

  • 21.7% overweight or obese in DEIS schools compared to 16.5% in other schools in first class.
  • 30.8% vs 18.6% in fourth class.
  • 32.2% vs 18.4% in sixth class.

“A significant way to go”

While there are some encouraging signs, we still have “a significant way to go” according to O’Brien.

She referenced the Health Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025, which was published by government last year.

O’Brien said that the steps proposed in the action plan “require action across multiple sectors” including measures to reduce sugar, fat and salt in food, reduce exposure to marketing of such foods and fiscal measures such as the proposed sugar tax and increasing access to free drinking water in schools.

“In addition to these,” she said, “what we do in our homes, schools and communities to help build healthy habits for all children and families is vital to our efforts to prevent childhood obesity”.

She closed by outlining six habits that children should develop to help maintain a healthy weight into adulthood.

shutterstock_547651015 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

They are:

  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Manage how much you eat treat foods – and don’t have them every day
  • Replace sugary drinks with water
  • Making being active a fun, everyday action
  • Have less time in front of a screen, and
  • Encourage more sleep

Read: Kellogg’s spent millions to attack calls to limit sugar – but are cereals that unhealthy?

Read: Here’s why your dog shouldn’t eat chocolate

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