Over 38 million children under 5 are overweight or obese

By June Shannon Policy News   |   26th Sep 2018

Childhood obesity – Ireland cannot afford not to tackle it

More than 38 million children worldwide under the age of five are overweight or obese and the number of school children and adolescents with obesity, has increased 10-fold from 11 million to 124 million in the last 40 years.

These were just some of the startling facts outlined in a new paper launched by the World Obesity Federation and the World Health Organisation at the UN General Assembly which takes place in in New York today (Wednesday, 26 September).

The paper entitled ‘Taking Action on Childhood Obesity,’ described childhood obesity as “one of the most serious global public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting every country in the world.”

According to the paper, which outlines progress being made worldwide to tackle childhood obesity, a 5 per cent reduction in children’s body mass index (BMI) in Ireland would reduce the cost of the disease here by almost a quarter.

The paper stated that in Ireland “action to reduce childhood BMI by an average of 5 per cent would save €1.1 billion in total lifetime costs.”

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, the current estimated total cost of childhood obesity in Ireland is more than €4.5 billion, or 1.6 per cent of our GDP.

Action to reduce childhood BMI in Ireland by an average of 5 per cent would save €1. 1 billion in total lifetime costs


In response to this new paper, the Irish Heart Foundation has reiterated its calls for funds raised from the tax on sugar sweetened drinks or the sugar tax to be ringfenced in Budget 2019 to fight childhood obesity.

“These figures clearly demonstrate that any notion that Ireland can’t afford to tackle its obesity crisis is simply wrong,” said Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, the Irish Heart Foundation.

“From an economic standpoint, as well as the human toll of the estimated 85,000 children living on the island today who will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity, we can’t afford not to tackle it.

“Last year investment in obesity prevention initiatives by the HSE’s Health and Wellbeing Division totalled just €2.7 million – or just over €10 for every Irish schoolchild the World Obesity Federation says will be overweight or obese in Ireland by 2025. Meanwhile no funding has been allocated to implement the national obesity action plan since it was launched two years ago.

“This is a drop in the ocean of what’s really needed to tackle the crisis and it’s crucial that the €40 million that the Department of Finance expects to raise each year on the sugar sweetened drinks levy is now ringfenced to promote health and tackle obesity among children as is the case in the UK,” Mr Macey concluded.

“From an economic standpoint, as well as the human toll of the estimated 85,000 children living on the island today who will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity, we can’t afford not to tackle it."

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy , Irish Heart Foundation

The World Obesity Federation and the World Health Organisation joint paper also stated that that preventing obesity had direct benefits for children’s health and wellbeing, in childhood and continuing into adulthood.

Compared with children with a healthy weight, those with overweight or obesity are more likely to experience negative consequences, the paper stated. These negative consequences included: poorer health in childhood, including hypertension and metabolic disorder, lower self-esteem and poorer health in adulthood, including a higher risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The World Obesity Federation has estimated that by 2025, 241,000 schoolchildren in Ireland will be overweight or obese.

As many as 9,000 children are predicted to have impaired glucose intolerance; 2,000 will have type 2 diabetes; 19,000 will have high blood pressure; and 27,000 will have first stage fatty liver disease.


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advocacy childhood obesity dietitian healthy eating heart disease high blood pressure hypertension

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