Saturday 1 October 2016

Irish children's diets are health time-bomb

Published 25/08/2016 | 02:30

Jamie Oliver has been trying to improve the quality of the meals eaten by children Photo: PA
Jamie Oliver has been trying to improve the quality of the meals eaten by children Photo: PA

Ten years after launching his healthy school dinners campaign, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had to admit he had failed.

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Oliver's belief was that feeding children healthily remained the preserve of the wealthy, leaving working class communities suffering more. Tasty, fatty foods were often the cheapest, fastest option.

On this side of the Irish Sea, the same might be said. Despite all the international research and a warning last year from the World Health Organisation that Ireland is on course to have the worst obesity crisis in Europe, we are losing the battle to eat healthily, and our children are at risk of paying the highest price.

Forty percent of our teenagers are eating junk food for lunch, a problem made worse by the fact that school-bought lunches contain much higher levels of calories, sugars and fat. A study by Dublin City University found that all too often the shop-bought options were low in nutrients and comprised of processed foods.

Worryingly, children's diets show excess sugar and salt, the components for a future health time-bomb unless we act. Dr Mary Rose Sweeney, who oversaw the research, has called on the Department of Education to get proactive.

We need to urgently enforce rules on what exactly is served to children in schools. Schools also need to take more responsibility themselves. Vending machines packed with sweets and sugary drinks have no place.

Parents also must be more aware, and food companies could help by improving labelling on calories and content.

Options like a sugar tax can't be far away. Making fresh food more affordable is something else that the Government might look at. It is no accident that it is lower income families that figure highest in the obesity statistics.

Thanks Robbie - the honour was truly ours

It is typical of Robbie Keane that he was found paying tribute to the fans on announcing his retirement from international football yesterday, instead of taking the bouquets. And plaudits there were aplenty. Having notched up 145 senior appearances for his country and finding the back of the net 67 times, Keane literally had the football world at his feet.

With his trademark celebration, he cartwheeled his way into the heart of the nation, where he stayed throughout an unrivalled 18-year international career. Modestly, as befits a great captain, Keane talked of his "great honour" in wearing the green jersey; in truth, it was those who followed him on his football odyssey who were honoured.

Those who know the game marked him down from 1998, when he made his debut, as one to watch. He didn't disappoint, as even the most begrudging would attest, flourishing into a great striker, not a good striker.

He first figured on the frontline as a marksman for Fettercairn, moving on to Crumlin United. If he learned his skills on the streets of Dublin, he perfected them in the greatest stadia in the world. By his own admission, the goal closest to his heart was the one that he put away against Germany in the 2002 World Cup. The greater the stage, the taller he grew, feeding on the adrenaline and the atmosphere of the big occasion.

Under the gruff and unlikely tutelage of Mick McCarthy, he became a player of world class. Bill Shankly said that a football team is like a piano, you need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing. There were times when Ireland only seemed to have one; but when that one was Keano, the maestro, it was more than enough.

Irish Independent

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