PARENTS will be told to make sure their children get enough sleep if they want to prevent obesity, as part of a major new public health campaign.
One in four Irish children is now overweight or obese and this is the case even among three-year-olds, Growing Up in Ireland studies have shown.
Healthy eating body Safefood is focusing on a number of key messages to parents to show them the practical steps they can take to help their children lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid excessive weight gain which tends to plague people for life.
Some of the practical steps recommended will include portion control, choosing healthy drinks, being active and getting enough sleep.
A number of studies have shown that inadequate night-time sleep is associated with weight gain – particularly amongst preschool children.
Although the exact relationship is not known, scientists believe inadequate sleep can disrupt the metabolism, while fatigue can lead to more snacking and less activity.
The new advertising campaign – launched by Health Minister James Reilly today – will feature TV, radio, poster and point of sale communications as well as online and print resources and is set to run for three years with funding from the Department of Health.
Orlaith Blaney of McCann Blue advertising agency, which designed the campaign, said that they had tested a lot of different approaches to see what worked.
They found that shock tactics about obesity favoured in some US campaigns could put people off as they tended to feel extreme cases did not apply to them.
"It can tend to switch people off, they say that's not me, I'm not like that, I'm not that overweight," Ms Blaney said.
One of the messages they would be trying to get across to parents in the new campaign was the importance of their own food choices and what they brought into the home for influencing children.
Safefood has drawn criticism before for a previous hard-hitting advertising campaign which highlighted the growing epidemic of obesity but has insisted it's important to get the message across.
Obesity costs Ireland over €1bn a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity, and contributes directly to life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Safefood research outlined at a conference last week indicated that two-thirds of people say parents are primarily responsible for children's obesity, with 38pc blaming fast food, 19pc blaming fizzy drinks and 15pc blaming the confectionery industry.
The "Granny factor" where grandparents overdo the treats to young children is also blamed by some.