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PE to become Leaving Cert subject under new plan to tackle obesity in Ireland

One expert said the plan could “be one of the major tipping points in Ireland’s obesity problem.”

Image: Shutterstock/SpeedKingz

LEAVING CERTIFICATE STUDENTS may get CAO points for being active as part of the government’s plan to tackle obesity.

As part of the Programme for Government published yesterday, the government will “support the introduction of a new Leaving Certificate PE syllabus, as a full optional subject”.

The plan has been widely welcomed. Ireland currently has the third highest rate of obesity in the EU.

Donal O’Shea, chairman of the policy group on obesity at the Royal College of Physicians told TheJournal.ie:

I think putting physical activity in the core of the curriculum of the senior cycle can only be positive.

He said “I am a massive fan of this as part of a solution to the ‘lifestyle driving disease’ epidemic.”

He added:

If it is done properly, it has the potential to be one of the major tipping points in Ireland’s obesity problem and it could be one of those moments you look back on.

This initiative is one aspect of the government’s plan to implement a national physical activity plan along with a national obesity plan.

There is no exact date for when PE will be made a Leaving Cert subject. Previous governments have promised to make it an exam subject beforehand, yet it was never implemented.

However including it in the Programme for Government is a strong sign of commitment from the 32nd Dáil.

“I think we have to accept within the education system that physical literacy is as important for individuals as any other type of literacy,” said Professor O’Shea.

“The more people you have prioritising physical literacy for longer, the better.”

Speaking of more than the physical benefits to young people if PE is introduced to the Leaving Cert curriculum, he said:

“What this is going to mean is, you are going to have to give resources to schools, you are going to have to have a full curriculum that can be examined, you are going to have to tailor it to individuals of different innate physical talent.”

Brendan O’Malley, President of the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI), and a PE teacher in O’Fiach College in Dundalk said:

This will finally allow students the opportunity to showcase their sporting ability, physical literacy, nutritional awareness, to name but a few. Their recognition by means of CAO points is a huge step in the right direction for physical education in Ireland.

Personal experience:

Melissa Morley is an Irish personal trainer, who lost 5 stone in her final year of college. She spoke to TheJounal.ie about her own journey and struggle with weight in school.

I was about 12 stone when I first sat my Leaving Cert and when I had to repeat, I was pushing 12 and a half maybe 13 stone. I really wish there was something different put in place back then especially for repeat students.

1 Source: Morley's Motivation/Melissa Morley

It was such a stressful year and I really turned to food for comfort because there was nothing else. I was too ashamed of my size to take part in PE and we were often allowed to skip the class to study instead for the exams.

The 23 year old thinks the introduction of PE to the Leaving Cert is a great idea. She wrote her thesis on the link between obesity and depression in young adults, and supports more than the physical benefits of the plan.

It’s a fantastic initiative. It’s a break both physically and mentally from exams and books. The boost of endorphin’s are so important for positive mental health which is of course a massive issue with regards to young people and the stress at which they’re under socially and academically.

“I think that as long as it incorporates all these aspects it will be a huge success.” Morley added.

Obesity in Ireland:

Last month a report in the Lancet medical journal was published that tracked the obesity levels in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014.
The Journal.ie did a FactCheck on the Lancet report as well as figures from the World Health Organisation to show Irish adults have the 3rd highest rate of obesity in the EU.

Newly appointed minister for Health, Simon Harris, spoke yesterday at the Healthcare Leaders masterclass 2016 about the work ahead of the Department of Health and what they have achieved to date saying:

“We’ve made great progress on smoking and now we need a similar focus on alcohol misuse, obesity and physical inactivity.”

Along with the plan for national physical activity plan, the Department of Health also announced there will be a levy on “sugar sweetened drinks”, although the exact amount has not been confirmed.

Read: Your can of Coke is about to cost more – a tax on sugary drinks is on the way >

Read:  Children of women who gain excess weight during pregnancy are more likely to be obese >

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