CHILDREN are to be weighed when they start primary school in a new bid to tackle the country's growing obesity problem.
The plan is being worked out between specialists, the HSE and GPs, obesity expert Dr Edna Roche, of Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, has revealed.
It comes against "staggering statistics" showing that one in five Irish children aged between five and 12 is now either overweight or obese.
Dr Roche,a consultant endocrinologist (specialist in diabetes and other disorders), told the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) that under the plan a public health nurse would weigh each child upon starting school.
If the child's weight was found to be of concern, they would then be referred on to the family GP or for specialist care if other linked health issues were suspected.
However, she said no start-up date for the screening was yet in place and it was unclear if public health nurses would be able to take on the extra workload.
Dr Roche, who is also head of paediatrics in Trinity College Dublin, revealed that the weight-management clinic in her hospital had to stop taking new referrals over a year ago because it did not have a dietitian to provide the necessary range of care. The clinic was receiving two to three referrals a week.
She continued: "However, the fact that they are not coming to me does not mean that they are not getting services and the family GP is best placed look after them."
Dr Roche said one of the questions most frequently asked by parents was: "Does the odd treat matter?"
She pointed out that a can of fizzy drink and a packet of crisps had 350 calories and this could take two hours of physical activity to burn off.
"Those 350 calories leave a four-year-old child with only 1,000 calories remaining from which to get their nutritional requirements," she pointed out.
These treats, said Dr Roche, were often being given to children on a daily basis and the result was that the child was left "over caloried and undernourished".
She told the gathering that the vast majority of children attending her clinic had televisions in their bedrooms, so they were exposed to late-night adverts for high-calorie foods.
Children should not be allowed to watch television or play video games for more than two hours a day, she advised, adding that they were becoming obese for various reasons.
These included sedentary behaviour and safety issues, which reduced the chances of walking to school or going outside to play.
Dr Bobby Smyth, a consultant psychiatrist at the Drug Treatment Centre Board in Dublin, also told the meeting that Irish adolescents were now beginning their drinking careers two to three years earlier than the last generation had done.