Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced a "cohesive approach" aimed at tackling and preventing obesity in Ireland.
The new strategy – a project by the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and Health Research Board – includes community-based programmes, health interventions in deprived areas and enhanced community care resources.
Entitled the “HSE model of care for the management of overweight and obesity”, the programme will see additional dietitians recruited for weight management and to tackle chronic disease across the country.
The programme aims to ensure appropriate and equitable treatment for overweight and obesity is available, in addition to public health-prevention measures. It also seeks to ensure weight-based stigma and obesity discrimination will not be tolerated in the healthcare system.
Some 37 per cent of Irish adults are overweight, while 23 per cent have obesity, according to the HSE’s national clinical programme for obesity. More than one in five children are overweight, and the lifetime costs of childhood obesity are estimated at € 4.6 billion.
Speaking about the programme, Mr Donnelly said overweight and obesity are “challenging for people to manage”, adding the announcement was a “milestone” for public health.
“With these new measures, we will see an effect not only on broad health outcomes, but also on the many conditions negatively impacted by obesity, including type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and Covid-19,” he said.
“We recognise that obesity is a chronic, multifactorial disease as well as a driver of other diseases, with serious implications for individuals, families, societies and economies. We will now be better placed to tackle this disease, from prevention, through community care supports to treatment.”
Dr Donal O’Shea, national clinical lead for obesity at the HSE, said he was “delighted” with the announcement.
“ This is the culmination of years of work by many people – with the patient journey at the centre of our thinking and planning,” he said.
“The lessons from other diseases like heart disease and lung cancer is that you only really start to win the overall battle when you begin actively treating the disease – that energises all the efforts around prevention, early detection and early treatment.”
Susie Birney from the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity said the development will "directly improve the lives of people living with obesity".
“Having our voices heard during the lead up to the publication of the model of care has been important and we will continue to work alongside all involved to do what it takes to implement these plans,” she added.
Frank Feighan, Minister of State with responsibility for public health, said individual body weight is affected by "many factors", including genetics, behaviour and environment.
“The department is working closely with other EU colleagues to examine how policy in areas such as food reformulation, front-of-package labelling, promotion and marketing of foods can help,” he added.