Lack of nutrition awareness a cause of obesity problem


The lunchbox of a school child was found to contain a packet of digestive biscuits and butter when it was opened in the classroom, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan told the Dáil.

He said when the teacher met the mother, “she pointed out that she had not given her child chocolate biscuits”.

The former teacher said he was using the example to highlight the “significant awareness problem” in the population about nutrition and healthy eating. Childhood obesity was largely linked to behaviour and “the earlier one intervenes to change behaviour, the better”.

He believed obesity was the most important public health issue the State would face for a generation and warned: “We will lose a generation.”

Mr O’Donovan said that in 1990, one in 10 Irish men was classified as obese. Today the figure is one in four. “Will it be one in two or even worse in 20 years’ time” he asked.

The Limerick TD, who has frequently raised the issue of childhood obesity, called for a rewards mechanism to be introduced in schools to encourage children into healthier eating. He suggested a scheme similar to the green flag environment initiative where schools are awarded flags for improvements in areas such as litter and waste recycling, which had resulted in significant reductions in littering.

He said it had to be an ongoing programme. RTÉ’s The John Murray Show and others were doing fantastic work but “not too many people discuss Operation Transformation in June or July”.

The Department of Finance or someone might suggest the best way to tackle obesity was to put an extra 10 cent on soft drinks , he said.

That might be part of the solution down the road, but “tackling our eating behaviours and level of activity and exercise through public pronouncements by schools . . . is essential”.

Onus on parents

Minister of State for Education Seán Sherlock said he agreed with the sentiments expressed by Mr O’Donovan but he said “there is only so much that schools can do. There is an onus on parents and the community to ensure that children are as active as possible outside of school.”

Schools acted in loco parentis and did a lot including the active school flag initiative to encourage physical activity. The primary and post-primary school curriculums enabled pupils to develop an understanding of food, nutrition and the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity, he said.