Wednesday 24 January 2018

Ireland's children are among the fattest in Europe, warn medics

Almost half of adults will be obese by 2030 if problem isn't tackled

Dietician Richelle Flanagan outside Leinster House yesterday
Dietician Richelle Flanagan outside Leinster House yesterday
Dr Sinead Murphy outside Leinster House yesterday

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Ireland's children are now among the fattest in Europe, medics have warned.

There are currently 100,000 obese children in the country and 300,000 who are classed as overweight.

If current patterns continue, almost half of adults living in Ireland could be obese by 2030.

Latest figures show that 31.8pc of Irish seven-year-olds are either overweight or obese, and that childhood obesity disproportionately affects children from poorer backgrounds.

Some 19pc of boys and 18pc of girls from professional households are overweight or obese, but this increases to 29pc of boys and 38pc of girls from semi- and unskilled backgrounds.

Ireland ranks in fifth place among 27 EU countries for childhood obesity, an Oireachtas committee was told yesterday.

The figures were outlined by a panel of doctors and nutritionists who described it as a "pandemic".

State funding for treating overweight and obese children is close to zero, the delegation from Temple Street Hospital and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute told the Oireachtas committee on health and children.

They criticised the lack of investment, pointing out that there are "potential, evidence- based solutions to this problem".

A treatment programme costs around €600 per child annually, the committee was told.

"For every family going through the programme there also is a 'multiplier of beneficial effect' because the positive effects of the psychology, nutrition and physical activity affects others in the family," said paediatrician Dr Sinead Murphy.

She described investment in childhood overweight and obesity community- and hospital- based services as "patchy and wholly inadequate".

"Research shows that sustainable weight reduction is extremely difficult in adults who are obese, but data so far available indicates that the right programme can achieve sustainable weight reduction and improved cardio-metabolic health in children," she said.

The panel highlighted the fact that obese children are also prone to serious health problems. These include musculoskeletal problems, high cholesterol, signs of pre-diabetes, breathing problems, poor self-esteem and depression.

"The cost of adult obesity to the State is in excess of €1bn per annum. This will continue to rise exponentially unless childhood obesity is addressed," Dr Murphy warned.

"If the average child who is obese is left untreated, the State incurs costs in the region of €5,000 per year as a direct cost of treating the child's co-morbidities."

Richelle Flanagan, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute's president, told the committee: "We recognise that childhood obesity is a highly complex issue, but if it is not addressed as a matter of extreme urgency there will have far-reaching consequences for the children, their families, future generations and the already massively pressurised healthcare system.

"Treatment needs to be available for all children when and where they need it at community level, but also in a hospital setting.".

Irish Independent

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