Reilly in push for NY-style health laws
Bloomberg's office consulted on reducing cancer, obesity
Published 25/09/2011 | 05:00
MINISTER for Health James Reilly wants New York-style public health laws introduced here to stop the epidemic of cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes, which kill three in five people.
Officials have been in contact with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office in Manhattan to see how the Big Apple reined in the fast food giants.
At the same time, the minister is writing directly to all fast food operators in Ireland asking them to label all menus with the calorie content.
The introduction of a sugar tax on certain foods, particularly soft drinks, is also being considered by the government advisory group.
In New York, a raft of legislation has been introduced in recent years to curb levels of obesity and diseases directly linked to diet.
In 2008, New York became the first jurisdiction in the US to require restaurant chains to post calorie information on menus and menu boards, which has led many consumers to choose food with fewer calories.
In 2009, Mr Bloomberg enacted the first restriction on cholesterol-raising artificial trans fat in the city's food service establishments, and New York also led the way in reducing salt intake. Some 28 food manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurant chains voluntarily committed to reduce excessive levels of sodium in their products.
Last week, Mr Reilly attended a United Nations meeting in New York on the role of the food and beverage industry in tackling non-communicable diseases.
Here, the Special Action Group on Obesity is examining a number of options to tackle obesity levels.
A spokesman for the minister confirmed: "The introduction of a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks was identified as a strategy for consideration and the feasibility of introducing such a measure is being examined. They [the Special Action Group on Obesity] are not considering the introduction of a junk food tax at this stage."
However, the Sunday Independent has learned that the group has explored the issue of calorie posting in fast food restaurants.
"Officials from the Department of Health met with representatives from the food industry during the summer and the minister now intends writing to fast food operators in Ireland asking that they introduce this calorie posting in their Irish restaurants. This initiative was first introduced in the US, and it has recently been replicated in the UK in a deal between the British government and industry."
Following the success of the New York initiatives regarding healthier diets, smoking restrictions, calorie posting in restaurants and sugar taxes, contact has been established with Mayor Bloomberg's office to discuss these further.
New York has led the charge against smoking and replicating the city's tough anti-smoking legislation would mean that the ban on smoking would be extended to parks and public beaches.
New York also mounted hard-hitting and graphic media campaigns depicting the consequences of smoking. Excise duties have also been increased to make cigarettes the most expensive in the US, at about $11 (€8) a pack.
The anti-smoking drive has worked -- smoking levels among adults has dropped from 22 per cent to 14 per cent -- the lowest on record.
Yesterday, Strand Celtic soccer club in Sligo announced they were banning their underage players aged four to 14 years from drinking sports drinks and sugary drinks while playing with the club.
Professor Donal O'Shea, chair of the Irish Heart Foundation's Nutrition Council, said: "We know these sports drinks are just another source of calories for children and young people that they don't need.
"These drinks are being advertised in a way that suggests they enhance performance for everyone. The fact is that these sports drinks help only elite athletes at the peak of their fitness and at the extreme of their effort.
"For most adults and children taking part in recreational sport, water is perfect for hydration -- and drinking up to 400 calories, in some cases, when you have run around a soccer pitch for an hour, takes away some of the benefits you get from the exercise."