Government is failing children on obesity, says athletics coach
The manager of Ireland's international athletics team has accused the Government of inaction over physical education for children and warned of an obesity timebomb.
Patsy McGonagle was speaking after arriving back from the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. He is a personal friend of 100m and 200m world champion Usain Bolt.
The athletics coach says the Government needs to introduce daily physical activity in all schools - primary and secondary - to tackle growing inactivity among young people.
He has suggested mentors or PE coaches should be hired to look after groups of eight to 10 schools and roll out a fun-filled programme.
"This is getting serious," said Mr McGonagle. "The problems we are facing as a nation are getting more stark each year and the shelves of our political leaders are stacked with dusty reports telling them just that.
"We either pay to solve this issue now or our health service will end up picking up a much larger bill down the line, but unfortunately all we get are special one-off events to raise awareness and then everyone goes home and forgets about it."
Mr McGonagle, from the Finn Valley Athletics Club in Co Donegal, says he has seen a decline in abilities at the primary school athletics championships he has been running for 45 years.
"Back then (45 years ago), you would have had 40 kids going into the finals and they were all competing whereas now you'd be lucky to see six or seven actually competing at a serious level whilst the rest are stopping, walking or pulling out," he said.
"There are a whole series of reasons for this; lifestyle changes, eating habits, parental responsibility, and internet-connected gadgets. But there is no-one in Government coming up with anything that is meaningful which deals with the physical, social and mental well-being of our young people."
Mr McGonagle warned: "The need to engage children at school in meaningful activity needs emphasis, as evidenced by the serious drop in fitness level of our youth.
"It needs leadership nationally and only for the voluntary contribution of sports clubs after school, we would be in even greater trouble."
He says parents who do have children in sports clubs must encourage more activity by their children "and not just use local activity as a drop-off point".