Minister calls for action to tackle clear danger of childhood obesity

Reilly warns that overweight crisis likely to leave ‘detrimental legacy lasting decades’

Minister for Health  Dr James Reilly  and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs   Frances Fitzgerald arriving for the launch of the SafeFood campaign on childhood obesity yesterday at Pearse Street Library. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald arriving for the launch of the SafeFood campaign on childhood obesity yesterday at Pearse Street Library. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 08:35


If we don’t tackle our problem with childhood obesity we are in danger of becoming the first generation to bury our children, Minister for Health James Reilly said yesterday when he launched a three-year campaign to address the issue.

He also spoke about his own battle with weight and said he was happy for any publicity that increased awareness about obesity.

Mr Reilly said obesity left a “detrimental legacy lasting decades and which will undoubtedly lead Ireland to an unhealthy and extremely costly, if not unaffordable, future if action is not taken now”. The all-island campaign led by Safefood is supported by the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework, and Northern Ireland’s Fitter Futures for All Implementation Plan.


Information campaign

It encourages parents to reduce children’s portion sizes, cut back on treats and sugary drinks and reduce the amount of time children spend in front of TVs and other screens.

The campaign will include advertising on TV and radio and will provide a free booklet in places such as creches, health centres and libraries. Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said some statistics on the weight of Irish children pointed to “an appalling vista” for some children.

“I can still remember the shock I felt when I heard from the Growing Up in Ireland study that 25 per cent of our children, of our three-year-olds, were obese or overweight,” she said. Research showed that 6 per cent of three-year-olds were obese.

“This problem is beginning very early in life for Irish children. Therefore it’s really important to intervene early.” She said high-fat and high-sugar foods were not just an occasional treat for some children. “They are the staple.”

Ms Fitzgerald also highlighted the social and psychological effects of being overweight, saying there was a danger that overweight children might engage in harmful behaviour. “Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be bullied at school so we are putting our children at risk of many dangers,” she said.

After he spoke at the launch, Dr Reilly was asked how he felt about a Sunday newspaper article criticising his weight.

“I’m not happy with the profundity of my rotundity and it’s been an issue that I’ve been concerned about,” he said. “It’s an area I’ve had a long, long interest in for obvious reasons and one that I continue to struggle with myself but I’ll keep struggling.”


Quality of life

Dr Reilly said being overweight “does have an impact on your health status and will impact in so many ways, not just diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, but osteoarthritis, and interfering with your ability to enjoy your later years in life.

“We want to live long and live well. There’s not much point, as happened in my own family, of living to be 80 if you spend the last 14 years of your life with no vision . . . Obviously we all want to live as long as possible but surely we want to have a life that’s a quality life as well.”