A sugar tax will help beat obesity epidemic – expert
TWO hours of exercise are needed in order to burn off the calories in a can of a fizzy drink and a packet of crisps, the country's leading expert on obesity has warned.
Professor Donal O'Shea, who heads the obesity management clinic in St Columcille's Hospital, Dublin, also likened the trend of enticing young people by having their names on the bottle of a soft drink as "personalised peddling".
He was speaking at a conference organised by the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) where renewed calls were made to introduce a sugar tax for fizzy drinks in a bid to fight obesity.
The health service is close to becoming "overwhelmed" by the number of obese children coming for treatment, with youngsters here getting one fifth of their calories from junk food.
Previous efforts by Health Minister James Reilly before the last two Budgets to persuade the Government to sanction the tax have failed and were shot down by his colleague Finance Minister Michael Noonan, despite a report showing it could potentially reduce the numbers of overweight and obese adults by 14,000.
Prof O'Shea said: "The obesity problem is public health concern number one – as the World Health Organisation says our children are getting fatter, and Ireland is leading the way in European childhood obesity rates.
"We now have the evidence to act. There is convincing data that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks improves the weight and health of children and adolescents.
"In Ireland we consume 83 litres of carbonated drinks per head of population, with teenage boys as the country's biggest consumers."
The majority of obese children will remain so as adults and parent should stick to water and milk when giving their youngsters drinks, he advised.
Department of Health secretary-general Ambrose McLoughlin repeated that today's parents could be the first generation to bury their children and said an action plan is being drawn up, based on the Government's lifestyle strategy, with talks under way across eight state departments.
An Ipsos/MRBI poll carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation found that a small majority of the Irish public support a health-related tax on sugar sweetened drinks to help reduce childhood obesity.
It found that 52pc would back such as tax with 46pc opposed. As many as 87pc population believe that sugar sweetened drinks contribute to obesity among children and young people.
IHF chief executive Barry Dempsey said it was calling for a 20pc tax to be put on the sugar-added drinks in the next Budget which would generate around €60m, a sum that could be used to subsidise fruit and vegetables. It also wants a children's health fund to be set up to "promote good nutrition through education and skills, as well as providing healthier meals in the country's schools."
Sugar sweetened drinks have little or no nutritional value and they are packed with calories. "The introduction of a tax to drive down consumption of these beverages seems like a no-brainer to protect our children," said Mr Dempsey.