Friday 30 September 2016

Obesity plan puts nation on weighing scales

Portion controls for school meals to beat ‘ticking health timebomb’

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

Schoolchildren will be particularly targeted and food companies which tender to provide meals in schools will have to ensure they are subject to 'portion control' Getty Images
Schoolchildren will be particularly targeted and food companies which tender to provide meals in schools will have to ensure they are subject to 'portion control' Getty Images

Calorie counts on menus will be mandatory from next year because so many restaurants, hotels and cafes have refused to voluntarily display the information.

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The move is part of the Government's new strategy to tackle the country's obesity crisis which Health Minister Simon Harris admitted is a "ticking timebomb."

Obesity specialist Prof Donal O’Shea. Photo: David Conachy
Obesity specialist Prof Donal O’Shea. Photo: David Conachy

He said: "Obesity is largely preventable but the solutions are not simple and the challenge is great. We know 60pc of adults and one in four children in Ireland is either overweight or obese."

The plan, which will run over ten years, has 60 actions with a timetable for each - but as yet there is no funding to implement key measures.

It will be heavily reliant on the money generated from a tax on fizzy drinks due to come into effect in 2018.

There will be a voluntary industry code of practice on food advertising, promotion and marketing.

It relies on food companies to voluntarily make changes in the amount of sugar, salt and fat in products. But the minister said they would legislate if they are not made healthier.

The aim of the the plan - which promises to put the nation on weighing scales - aims to see a downward trend of 5pc in the nation's excess weight over the decade.

Read more: Revealed: New plan to stop Ireland becoming the fattest country in Europe

It wants a 10pc reduction in the gap in obesity levels between the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups who have the worst problem .

Schoolchildren will be particularly targeted and food companies which tender to provide meals in schools will have to ensure they are subject to "portion control."

Schools will be encouraged to get children more active during the day and designate certain days as "walk to school days".

There will be professional development support on physical education for teachers.

A revised food pyramid will be unveiled in the coming weeks. which Minister for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy says will encourage people to eat less bread, potatoes and cereals and more fruit and vegetables.

A national activity plan published earlier this year aims to increase the number of people taking exercise by 50,000 a year.

Obesity specialist Prof Donal O'Shea, inset below, who treats patients who are obese, warned "the bomb has already exploded" for many patients he sees.

"They are people who don't go out any more. Their lives are dominated by obesity."

He welcomed the long- awaited plan and said he was particularly pleased there are timelines attached the actions.

The proposal to appoint a clinical lead - a specialist in obesity - in the HSE to oversee its implementation was also encouraging he added.

He hoped it will not gather dust like the task force report on obesity of a decade ago which was "dead in the water" after a year.

And he warned that if it is not acted on, the country is "goosed" because of the scale of the problem.

Irish Independent

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