HEALTH Oireachtas Committee
19 January 2005
Obesity now represents a major threat to the health of the nation, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children were told today.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Sports Council and the Chairman of the National Taskforce on Obesity, John Treacy told the committee that 39% of the adult population in Ireland is overweight, of whom 18% are obese.
Irish rates of obesity are growing at 1% per year even though Ireland has been one of the first EU countries to establish a Taskforce on Obesity and to produce a detailed report on the problem with the support of Government.
Research conducted by the Irish Sports Council in collaboration with the ESRI has also found that one in five adults in Ireland take no physical exercise and that only two in five take enough exercise to meet the minimum standards of physical activity recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The respective roles that the Government and the private sector can play in combating Ireland’s growing obesity problem were clearly outlined to the Committee by Mr. Treacy who also highlighted the positive contribution that sport can make.
Mr. Treacy explained that the report produced by the National Taskforce on Obesity made 93 recommendations that amounted to a manifesto for changing social attitudes and behaviours so that the problems associated with obesity can be successfully resolved.
Recognising that the Government provided an additional €3 million in the 2006 Estimates to implement the report’s recommendations, Mr. Treacy also pointed to the challenges presented by the public sector which is estimated to have spent €132 million advertising food and beverage products in Ireland in 2003.
“Joined up Government is a key factor in combating obesity but it is also clear that the private sector has a critical role to play. This sector’s acknowledgement of its responsibilities is a crucial first step to effective action, but we must recognise that it is extremely difficult to counteract the impact of an annual advertising spend of that magnitude,” Mr Treacy told the Committee.
He went on to say that that Irish Sports Council were implementing a number of programmes and policies to tackle obesity which were underpinned by an extensive programme of research. The Irish Sports Council has already begun allocating funding across a number of targeted programmes to support the PE curriculum in primary schools, sport for young people in disadvantaged areas, women in sport, and sport for older people.
The Sports Council CEO described the Government’s decision to establish the National Taskforce on Obesity as a major step forward. “There can be no argument that the issue is firmly on the political and social agenda. That is the first step towards changing attitudes and ultimately behaviours,” he said.
Mr. Treacy called on the public sector, the private sector and the community and voluntary sectors to work in partnership to promote healthy eating and active living. Such a collaboration would empower individuals to tackle obesity, he said, adding that interventions should be designed to support those making the choices that lead to a healthier life.
Paul McDermott, Communications Manager, ISC – 087 648 6295