Majority referred to childhood obesity services ‘refuse to attend’

Institute of Public Health conference hears papers on healthy living and on impact of cuts on vulnerable populations in EU

The majority of children referred to obesity programmes declined to take part or subsequently dropped out, the IPH conference heard. Photograph: Thinkstock

The majority of children referred to obesity programmes declined to take part or subsequently dropped out, the IPH conference heard. Photograph: Thinkstock


The majority of families referred to services to treat childhood obesity refuse to attend, and many who take up appointments later drop out, a health conference in Dublin heard.

A conference hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland heard new strategies were needed to boost recruitment for childhood obesity programmes.

UCC researcher Emily Kelleher told the conference her review of existing studies found that children agreed to enrol in obesity treatment programmes primarily to have fun and to make friends.

Others engaged with the expectation of improving their weight and appearance.

But the stigma associated with such programmes prevented other children from attending.

“Evidence suggest that programmes that are family based and combine healthy eating, physical activity and behavioural components are effective in treating childhood obesity,” Ms Kelleher said.

“However, success relies heavily on ongoing family attendance. Unfortunately, the majority of families referred to such treatment decline the referrals and many who do agree to attend subsequently drop out.

“Such non-attendance impacts negatively on the children and their families as well as on the health service due to missed appointments.”

Ms Kelleher said that to counteract the stigma that led to non-participation and drop-out, childhood obesity programme marketing materials should be “bright and fun, highlighting the positive benefits to the children as well as the opportunity to learn new skills and take part in interesting activities”.

Dr Colette Kelly of NUIG told the event that three-quarters of post-primary schools taking part in a national health behaviour study had one or more fast food restaurant located within one kilometre.

Nearly a third (29.7 per cent) had five or more fast food outlets within a kilometre. Boys’ schools and those in urban areas had a greater number of fast foot outlets nearby than did girls’ schools and rural schools.

Dr Kelly called for a public debate on how to address the issue, given the prevalence of obesity amongst young people.

The conference also heard details of the Tallaght Healthy City project, a pilot scheme carried out in the Dublin suburb. Dr Catherine Darker of the Health Psychology Society of Ireland said one of the most shocking findings of the pilot study over over 1,000 individuals was that 83 per cent took no strenuous exercise at all.

Other topics addressed at the event on Croke Park included smoking, suicide and access to healthcare in the EU by vulnerable communities in times of crisis.

Daniel Molinuevo and Hans Dubois of Eurofound outlined research on the population groups in Europe which have experienced reduced access to healthcare as a result of the financial crisis.

They included people living in countries with poor overall access or in remote areas, people with poor education and low incomes, people with greater healthcare needs, such as those with disabilities, older people and people with chronic illnesses, homeless people and migrants, and those belonging to a specific ethinic minority such as Roma.

The IPH’s fourth annual open conference at the Croke Park conference centre was opened by Tony O’Brien, director general of the Health Service Executive.