Safe play fixation 'prevents children learning life skills'
CHILDREN in five counties are to be monitored under a pilot growth programme after it emerged that we have reached a "tipping point" in obesity.
Experts have warned that a 'safety at all costs' attitude to children's play, to the extent that even minor risks must be avoided, is preventing children from learning essential life skills.
More than 20pc of Irish children are currently overweight or obese. To tackle the scourge, a pilot programme will be rolled out in primary schools later this year as part of the school health check for five- and six-year-olds.
The programme is due to start in September in Mayo, Laois, Offaly, Cork city and Dublin 15.
UCD Professor of Public Health Cecily Kelleher said there were "encouraging signs of stabilisation" in children, with weight levels showing decreases at the age of seven and stabilisation at nine.
However, she warned that the overall situation remained a cause for concern and said the levelling off was not happening in disadvantaged schools.
Under the growth monitoring programme, parents will be given feedback on their child's growth and advice on diet and activity levels.
Any children whose growth results show signs of clinical obesity will be referred on to a lifestyle-intervention programme at Temple Street Children's Hospital.
Delegates at the Early Childhood Ireland conference in Croke Park were warned that obesity had now reached a "tipping point" in Ireland.
Dr Catherine Woods, a lecturer at DCU in exercise psychology and physical activity for health, said parents were in denial about their children's weight problems. Three-quarters reported that their child was sufficiently active, although just one in five children is actually getting enough exercise.
She said children were missing out on vital benefits, such as overall motor skills, fine motor skills and a boost to their self-confidence by not getting enough physical activity from an early age due to "surplus-safety" attitudes to child play.
Dr Woods said children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch television, while children aged two to four should only be allowed to watch for an hour a day.
Meanwhile, Professor Donal O'Shea, an expert on childhood obesity, warned that we have now reached a real "tipping point" in Ireland. He recommended that parents replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water, watch portion size, ensure children are active for more than an hour every day.