Kildare creches tackling the Irish Obesity Timebomb identified by a new WHO report

Rates of obesity are expected to increase in almost all European countries by 2030, with Ireland set to be at the top of the list, a new study has revealed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) report predicts that almost 90 % of Irish men and 84 % of Irish women will fall into body mass index (BMI) categories ranging from overweight to obese by 2030.  Health experts said the ‘shocking’ figures showed the huge challenge that health and social care services are facing and warned of the obesity epidemic coming down the tracks. 

In almost every country studied, the proportion of overweight and obese males was expected to increase between now and 2030. The highest projected level – 90% – is expected to be in Ireland. The study also noted that there is ‘little evidence’ to suggest that any plateau in adult obesity rates will occur in Europe. In other words, the prevalence of obesity will simply keep on increasing.

It has been suggested in the report that the reason for Ireland’s poor forecast may be due to the ‘type of market’ we have. “The UK and Ireland, where obesity prevalence is among the highest, possess unregulated liberal market economies similar to the US, where the collective actions of big multinational food companies to maximise profit encourages over-consumption,” according to Dr. Laura Webber who headed the report.  The reasons the title of most overweight country could find its way to Ireland could also be due to the economic downturn, which forces its citizens to purchase cheaper, yet less healthy, foods. Also blamed was a lack of exercise, poor diet and sugar in-take and despite being talked about in the public eye for decades, Irish people appear to still be unaware of what is right for their own well being.

Increasingly, the talk on childhood obesity centres around children of school going age. At this age, it is believed that unhealthy food habits have become ingrained. “There is no silver bullet for tackling this,” Dr. Webber admitted. “We need a comprehensive package of approaches to support healthy eating and more physical activity in daily life.” To adequately tackle childhood obesity, we must begin in early childhood.

‘Food Rebels’ is a campaign for childcare providers and parents to help combat childhood obesity in Ireland and it is currently being piloted in Kildare crèches. Food Rebels is the second phase of a crèche healthy eating programme initiated over 2 years ago. In developing the programme Fiona McLoughlin Healy’s goal was to address the issue of childhood obesity through the crèche structure. After 2 years of implementation and feedback, the most successful and workable parts of the programme now form the second phase of the roll- out to crèches nationwide. This newly devised programme asks crèches and parents to adhere to 4 main principles in a battle against childhood obesity. Nutritional Scientist and weekly contributor to the Pat Kenny Show Newstalk,  Anna Burns endorses the Food Rebels programme.  “ We really need to see this programme taken up by crèches nationwide if we are serious about tackling childhood obesity at the point at which intervention could have the most benefit”.  The now former Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald supported the Food Rebels programme at a recent Children’s Forum held by Fiona McLoughlin in Newbridge adding that “ tackling obesity through the pre-school years is hugely important”.

1. White to brown
Offer whole-grain pasta and rice for dinner with whole-grain cereals for breakfast and whole-grain bread where practical; nine times out of ten.

2. Prioritise a wholesome breakfast
Prioritise a varied and wholesome breakfast. Include such options as porridge (with or without jam); wheat biscuits with chopped banana; boiled egg and whole-wheat toast soldiers; cereal flakes with yoghurt and berries.

Breakfast is a vehicle for milk. Breakfast is one of three equally important meals of the day.

3. Add steps to each day
Add five minutes of movement to every hour. Use every opportunity to move (musical chairs, star-jumps, dancing on the spot, walking, playing out doors). The goal is to achieve no less than five thousand steps per child per day.

4. Portion size
Vegetables should make up half the dinner plate. Colour to be a priority (carrots and broccoli, sweet potato and cabbage, corn and peas). Children need to be encouraged to eat from all parts of the plate but not to finish their plate, unless hungry to do so. Fruit to be offered twice daily, at snack time. 

As parents and childcare workers involved in the Food Rebels programme, we are rebelling against the onslaught of childhood obesity. The earlier we tackle it, the better chance we have of beating it. What is healthy food and what is an appropriate food portion isn’t always so obvious. Food Rebels cut through the plethora of confusing messages to educate childcare workers, parents and children about healthier food choices. For more information on the Food Rebels campaign, visit