Child obesity report calls for a ban on new fast food restaurants near schools

Oireachtas committee says home economics should be compulsory at Junior Cycle

Among 20 recommendations, the committee also suggests the Government should undertake research into the potential links between obesity, mental health, and the portrayal of body image on social media and in traditional media. File photograph: Getty Images

Among 20 recommendations, the committee also suggests the Government should undertake research into the potential links between obesity, mental health, and the portrayal of body image on social media and in traditional media. File photograph: Getty Images

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A ban on fast food restaurants within a certain distance of schools and amended regulations on the advertising of unhealthy foods are among recommendations in a report aimed at tackling the crisis of childhood obesity.

The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs report, published on Thursday, also recommends that home economics be made compulsory at Junior Cert level over time and that the Government “normalise the drinking of water” in schools as an alternative to less healthy drinks.

Among 20 recommendations, the committee also suggests the Government should undertake research into the potential links between obesity, mental health, and the portrayal of body image on social media and in traditional media. It should then implement measures to protect young people accordingly.

It further recommends that the Government should establish “clear targets for reducing socio-economic inequalities in childhood obesity” and that it also provide the necessary funding for obesity-related research in order to better identify “obesity hotspots”.

The committee said the Government should consider the promotion of sport and physical activity for children and young people as a priority in relation to funding provided from public monies, including the Sports Capital Programme.

It called for the enhancement of local planning powers and said the Government should consider the implementation of measures to prevent the opening of new fast-food outlets within a defined vicinity of schools. The definition of what constituted a “fast food” restaurant needed to be considered, however, as there seemed to be “ambiguity” in that regard.

A ban on vending machines in schools is also among the measures the committee said should be considered.

Other recommendations include that the Government, in conjunction with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, should amend regulations on the advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods to children so that these regulations do not only apply to children’s programmes, but to other programmes where there may be a significant number of children watching.

Outlining trends in the context of childhood obesity, the committee noted one in four three-year-old children as well as one in four 13-year-old children are overweight or obese.

More than half (54 per cent) of parents of overweight children and 20 per cent of parents of obese children report that their children are about the right weight for their height.

The committee also noted a 2016 study had found that 55 per cent of obese children go on to be obese in adolescence. About 80 per cent of obese adolescents will still be obese in adulthood and about 70 per cent will be obese over the age of 30.

Just one in four children eats fruit and vegetables daily and consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is still high, with 26 per cent of children having sweets and 12 per cent having soft drinks.

The committee held a public consultation in April and May and heard submissions from March to October from a large number of individuals and interested groups.

Committee chair, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, said the prevalence of obesity among children and young adults was “one of the most urgent health concerns facing policy makers, parents and guardians, teachers and, most importantly, children and young adults themselves”.

“Tackling childhood obesity must be a priority, given the impact that obesity can have on all aspects of health for our younger generations, both now and into their futures,” Mr Farrell said.

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