Fast-food ban near schools proposed to fight child obesity

 

THE GOVERNMENT is considering introducing a ban on fast-food outlets near schools, following the publication of a report on obesity in nine-year-olds.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday she was in discussions with the Department of the Environment to see if planning regulations could be introduced to control the proximity of fast-food businesses to schools.

“When you walk out of a school, if the first thing you see is a fast-food shop, clearly that’s not in the child’s best interests.”

Speaking at the publication of Growing Up in Ireland: The National Longitudinal Study of Childrenreport yesterday, she said the Government would also promote sports and recreation to help combat children’s weight problems.

Yesterday’s report took an in-depth look at data released in July 2009. The study examined more than 8,500 nine-year-olds about many aspects of their lives.

It found social class was a significant factor in children’s weight.

Girls from working-class families were seven times more likely to have a weight problem than their peers from professional households.

A quarter of nine-year-olds were either overweight or obese, but girls were more likely to be outside normal weight range. Some 22 per cent of girls were overweight and 8 per cent were obese, compared to 19 per cent and 5 per cent of boys respectively.

Children with parents who were semi-skilled or unskilled manual workers were also significantly more likely to be obese or overweight than children from households with one or more parent working in the professions.

Both children and their parents underestimated their weight problems, the study found.

More than half of the parents of overweight children and 20 per cent of those with obese children said their child was “about the right weight” for their height. And four out of five of the children who were overweight said they were “about the right weight”.

Mothers who were overweight were also less likely to perceive that their child was overweight.

The report found the height of the average nine-year-old in Ireland increased by 7 per cent or 9cm between 1948 and 2007, while weight increased by 26 per cent in boys and 31 per cent in girls.

Exercise, diet and sedentary behaviour were also examined. Girls did less light exercise than boys, but boys watched more television and both factors had an effect on their weight. On average, boys who watched more than three hours of TV per night were over four times more likely to be obese than boys who watched an hour or less.

The report’s co-author Prof Richard Layte said Government policy needed to look at incentivising better diet. He also suggested that GPs or practice nurses should weigh children when they made a routine visit to raise awareness of their weight. He warned that this should be done carefully to avoid self-esteem issues.