Where are worried parents to turn if their child is obese?
Where do you go and who do you turn to if your child is overweight or obese? Apparently, parents have little or no services to turn to. This startling fact was revealed at the launch of the INDI (Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute) Nourish Children Week in Dublin.
This lack of services is particularly worrying when, according to figures from the national Growing Up in Ireland survey, one-in-four of the 30,000 primary school children in this country are either overweight or obese.
The school yard is a jungle for all kids. The last thing a child needs is to be singled out for their weight. Overweight children often complain about bullying in school. This, on top of their already fragile self-esteem, is a dangerous combination.
Nourish Children Week is aiming to highlight the lack of HSE childhood obesity services. Dietitian Richelle Flanagan, INDI's president, said there is a dearth of services despite child obesity now reaching epidemic levels.
"73pc of the country doesn't have access to a child obesity programme and 88pc of the country doesn't have access to a group intervention programme when kids are already obese," he says.
The INDI presented a map of Ireland which showed that just three HSE childhood obesity prevention programmes exist across seven counties, along with two group treatment programmes that cover three counties.
Clearly this doesn't even begin to deal with the growing problem. If your child can't get help, the situation may well get worse and their health – both mental and physical – will deteriorate. Many children with obesity say they suffer from depression and, in some cases, feel suicidal.
Temple Street Children's University Hospital is the only children's hospital with an intervention programme – called W82GO – for obese children with co-morbidities, but it currently has a nine-month waiting list. There are no dedicated clinics for obese children at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and just limited access through endocrinology and other specialities. Obese children are seen by a dietitian in the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght, but the waiting list is over a year.
Many children who are being referred to programmes have already developed serious medical problems as well as poor self-image.
The cause of childhood obesity is excessive calorie intake and lack of physical activity. The negative impact of childhood obesity is crippling for children.
They need help and they cannot – and should not have to – wait months or years to get it as waiting lists grow longer.
The prevalence of obesity has increased with alarming speed over the past 20 years across the world. It is now being described as epidemic and is being cited as the biggest public health problem across Europe.
Dr Sinead Murphy, consultant paediatrician in Temple Street hospital, says: "Most worrying of all is the fact that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in Europe, with body weight now the most prevalent childhood disease.
"The Irish Government has no choice but to work to prevent and treat this disease and tackle the toxic environment that simultaneously restricts activity and stimulates higher calorie intake."
The Government must devise a strategy to deal with childhood obesity, and implement it as soon as possible.
The one thing we are sure of is that this problem is not going away. We need to deal with it now. It is our job to protect our children and make them better when they are sick or unwell.
Chronic diseases related to obesity are becoming common among children and teenagers. Being overweight increases a child's risk of contracting a number of conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure to name but a few.
These are not easily cured or alleviated. They require proper medical treatment. Perhaps it's time for parents to start lobbying the Government and forcing it to focus on what has now become an epidemic amongst our young.
One-in-four is a shocking statistic and, if we're not careful, it could be one-in-three soon.