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400,000 of our children have weight issues

One in 10 children under the age of three in poorer areas of this country is obese and the problem is getting worse.

The trend indicates that by 2030 almost half of the country's adults will be obese, an Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children has been told.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Sinead Murphy said that Ireland now has 400,000 children under the age of 16 who are overweight and 100,000 of these are obese. If the problem was not tackled, she stressed, 47pc of adults in Ireland would be obese by 2030.

Obese children are already suffering from a range of problems because of their weight which include muscle and joint problems, high cholesterol, high insulin and big psychological problems.

One of the "scary" figures, she added, was the fact that 10pc of children under three years of age in the lower socio-economic group are now obese and "we are seeing the problem earlier and earlier".

Dr Murphy told the committee that almost one third of seven-year-olds here are overweight or obese and Ireland now ranks fifth in the 27 EU members states when it comes to childhood obesity.

ENORMOUS

The consultant, who is based at Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin, added: "There is no sign whatsoever of it easing. It's getting worse. We have an enormous issue."

The causes, she said, are complex. Diet plays a huge part along with the availability of unhealthy food and how it was marketed to children. There are not enough facilities for children to exercise and there are no treatment programmes for children and families to change their lifestyle and empower them to take responsibility for themselves.

Dr Murphy told the committee that the cost of adult obesity, which is currently €1bn a year, will rise unless the issue of obesity in children is addressed.

The president of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Richelle Flanagan, said that the State was not meeting its duty of care to its children.

"Having things like raised blood sugar, high blood pressure, cholesterol, broken bones – you want to stop it.

"To think that a child is going to break a bone because they're too overweight and we're not doing anything to try and stop that before it gets to that stage, it seems absolutely ludicrous."

csheehy@herald.ie


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