Childhood Obesity it’s time for drastic action

By June Shannon Policy News   |   12th Nov 2019

The Irish Heart Foundation launches ground-breaking childhood obesity manifesto that aims to cut childhood obesity by 50 per cent by 2030.

Obesity “represents the greatest single threat to the health and wellbeing of children in Ireland today and drastic action is needed to protect them.”

This was the main message of the Irish Heart Foundation’s new Childhood Obesity Manifesto which was launched at a special event in Dublin today (Tuesday 12th of November ) and plans to cut the rate of childhood obesity in Ireland by half in the next decade.

It is estimated that overweight and obesity will be responsible for the deaths of 85,000 children on the island of Ireland and currently, children as young as eight are presenting with high blood pressure while some teenagers have a heart health age of 60.

The new manifesto entitled ‘The Future for our children’s health- A Childhood Obesity Manifesto’, was developed by the Irish Heart Foundation in conjunction with leading obesity experts, parents and young people and makes a total of 58 recommendations under 12 separate headings.

The recommendations include, making tackling childhood obesity a national health priority, a ban on all unhealthy food and drink marketing to under 18s as well as a ban on the sale of junk food in schools and a need to change the built environment to promote more healthy and active lives.

The manifesto also calls for the price of unhealthy food to be increased through new taxes that incentivise reformulation and for the price of healthy foods to be reduced through funding subsidies.

It also recommends a ban on special price promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free and multipack offers that encourage the overconsumption of junk food, the removal of unhealthy food products from end-of-aisles and checkouts in supermarkets and the provision of a clear food labelling system which details fat, sugar, salt and calorie content.

“ This manifesto has the potential to be a game changer if people take it at face value,"

Prof Donal O Shea, Clinical Lead for Obesity, HSE

In its manifesto the Irish Heart Foundation has also called for an end to misleading health claims on the packaging of unhealthy food and drinks, greater political priority for action to tackle childhood obesity and the immediate removal of food industry representatives from national health policy formation.

Polling carried out in conjunction with the IHF Childhood Obesity Manifesto revealed overwhelming public support for its recommendations.

Speaking at the launch Professor Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s Clinical Lead on Obesity said, “This manifesto has the potential to be a game changer if people take it at face value. It is the truth, simply spoken and crucially has been developed in cooperation with young people who it is ultimately for. It could help turn the tide on childhood obesity – the biggest health challenge of this generation.”

Consultant endocrinologist Professor Francis Finucane, who also addressed the Manifesto launch in Dublin added, “If policymakers are serious about protecting children’s health in the face of the obesity epidemic they have to commit to drastic action. A crucial element of this is restricting the ultra-processed food industry’s ability to promote overconsumption in pursuit of profit, including through marketing restrictions, taxation and mandatory reformulation.”

In addition, the Irish Heart Foundation recommends that voluntary reformulation targets to be launched shortly by the Department of Health should be made mandatory and be accompanied with new taxes, including a levy to incentivise a reduction in the calorie content of confectionery.

“ If policymakers are serious about protecting children’s health in the face of the obesity epidemic they have to commit to drastic action,"

Professor Francis Finucane, Consultant Endocrinologist

Head of Advocacy at the Irish Heart Foundation, Mr Chris Macey, said that IBEC’s 12-year reformulation programme up to 2017 had failed to reduce average energy consumption across the population in any age group. Meanwhile, by the end of 2018 there had been just a 2.9 per cent reduction in sugar content under the UK’s voluntary reformulation programme which began in 2015, despite a 20% target due to be reached in 2020. This compared to a 29 per cent drop in the sugar content of products subject to the UK’s sugar sweetened drinks tax over the same period and a 21.6 per cent reduction in sugar purchased from these drinks.

“The decisive action taken by manufacturers to reduce their exposure to the tax demonstrates the futility of voluntary schemes and the necessity for Government to enforce mandatory programmes coupled with new taxes to encourage further reductions in high sugar, fat and salt levels in products popular with children.

“Sweet and chocolate confectionery are among the highest contributors of sugar to children’s diets, whilst chocolate is also one of the highest in terms of saturated fat intake and evidence suggests that a levy on such products that incentivises reduction in calorie content can have a bigger impact than the sugar sweetened drinks tax.”

Mr Macey added that it was crucial to ringfence such levies so their impact could be further magnified, particularly by funding interventions targeting disadvantaged communities where obesity rates are highest, along with initiatives such as healthy food subsidies to help close the price gap with cheap junk products and measures to deliver a healthier school food and physical activity environment.

You can read ‘The Future for our children’s health- A Childhood Obesity Manifesto’ here.

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childhood obesity childhood obesity manifesto heart disease high blood pressure Obesity overweight

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