Children to be weighed at school

 

PLANS ARE under way to weigh children when they start school at age four or five to see whether they are overweight, the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation heard yesterday.

Addressing a scientific session at the conference, the head of paediatrics at Trinity College Dublin and consultant endocrinologist at Tallaght Hospital Dr Edna Roche said one in five Irish children aged five to 12 and adolescents aged 13 to 17 were overweight or obese.

She said the plan to weigh children when they started school was being worked out between doctors and the Health Service Executive. No start-up date for the screening plan was yet in place, she said, and it was unclear whether public health nurses would be able to take on additional workload involved in the plan.

Dr Roche said one of the main questions parents asked was whether “an odd treat” mattered. She said a 330ml can of sugared fizzy drink and a 40g packet of crisps contained 350 calories. A four-year-old child required about 1,400 calories per day.

She said it could take two hours of physical activity for a child to burn off the 350 calories. Child obesity was increasing in prevalence and degree, she added. The causes were complex and multi-factorial but, if unchecked, tended to persist into adult life.

Healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle modification were key to obesity prevention, she said.

The conference also heard strong criticism of the HSE over the treatment of hundreds of non-consultant doctors it recruited last year in India and Pakistan. Many spent months unable to work due to factors including delays in holding competency exams by the Medical Council.

Separately, the conference rejected proposals for the establishment of a new associate specialist hospital doctor grade – one of the key manpower reforms proposed by Minister for Health James Reilly – if it applies in the same manner as in the UK.