PARENTS are shaving minutes off their children's lives every time they drive them to school, according to a leading obesity expert.
Chauffeuring children to and from school when they could just as easily walk or cycle is a key reason why Irish children are facing an obesity epidemic, Dr Donal O'Shea, the director of weight management services at St Columcille's Hospital and St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, said yesterday.
"To drive to school if you're within a mile of the school is a lost opportunity for the kids and for the parents. You're taking minutes off your life by refusing that opportunity to walk to school every day," he told the Irish Independent.
And it's not just primary school children who are at risk of developing life-long weight and obesity problems as a result, he says.
"There are five times more secondary school girls who drive themselves to school than cycle to school -- 2,500 secondary school girls in Ireland drive themselves to school and only 500 cycle," he said.
He made the comments following a speech at an obesity conference yesterday in which he stressed the need for a radical shift in our children's lifestyles to prevent obesity.
Even allowing children to buy sandwiches at lunchtime instead of packing their own lunch can be doing them more harm than good, he added.
"The packed lunch brought to school isn't considered cool anymore and it's an industry for shops near schools.
"But those shops have to provide a healthy option because some of those lunch or breakfast rolls can literally have 1,300 or 1,400 calories and you could have your entire day's worth in your lunch roll," he said.
His comments follow the Government's publication of the 'Growing Up in Ireland' report this week, which reveals that a quarter of Irish three-year-olds are already overweight and 6pc are obese.
Lack of exercise from an early age and poor diets that relied heavily on convenience foods were mostly to blame, he said.
"Cut the crisps, coke and chips on a daily basis and make it once a week. Get more activity at home and at schools," he urged parents.
Minister for Children and Youth Affair Frances Fitzgerald, who launched the 'Obesity -- The Imperative for Prevention' lecture at Farmleigh House yesterday, agreed that action had to be taken now before we condemned our children to a lifetime of poor physical and mental health as a result of obesity.
She added that she fully supported a so-called "fat tax" on junk food, sweets and high fat and sugar foods.