Sixty specific actions to improve Ireland’s health and to reduce the burden of obesity across society

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD,  together with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone TD, and the Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD launched “A Healthy Weight for Ireland – Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016- 2025”. The policy and action plan aims to reverse obesity trends, to prevent health complications and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system and the wider society and economy.

In recent years, levels of overweight and obesity have increased dramatically with 60% of adults and one in four children in Ireland either overweight or obese.  It is estimated that the cost to society in Ireland of adult obesity exceeds €1 billion per annum. Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for many chronic diseases. The links between obesity and heart disease, cancers, Type 2 diabetes, mental health issues, respiratory problems and musculoskeletal conditions are well established.

At the launch in Dublin Castle, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD stated,

Rising levels of overweight and obesity are placing an increasing burden on individuals and society and this represents one of the biggest public health challenges Ireland is facing today.

“While lifestyle choices are made by individuals and families, Government can and must help to empower people make these healthy choices. We have a responsibility to influence the environment and conditions which help people to have their desired quality of life and enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential.” 

The Ministers announced a range of actions which would be undertaken over the coming years to address the growing concerns about overweight and obesity. These include

  • new national Healthy Eating Guidelines
  • Calorie Posting Legislation
  • Development of a Nutrition Policy
  • A new clinical Lead for Obesity will be appointed in the HSE
  • Prioritisation of Obesity services in the HSE service plans for 2017 and subsequent years
  • support for introduction of a Sugar Levy to encourage a reduction in the rates of consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Working with key stakeholders to develop a voluntary industry Code of Practice re food advertising, promotion and marketing
  • whole of school” approaches to healthy lifestyles with the Department Education and Skills
  • Development of guidelines in relation to the built environment
  • Agreement on food reformulation targets with the food industry and establishment of a forum for engagement with industry on best practice initiatives towards a healthy food environment

Minister Harris also announced the establishment of a “Healthy Ireland Fund” to allow for “joined-up working” between Government Departments on evidence based projects, programmes and initiatives that support the implementation of Healthy Ireland.  This will embed and implement Healthy Ireland programmes and projects in a variety of settings, including education, local authorities, workplaces and communities. The details in relation to the Fund will be announced at a future date.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone TD, also launched ‘Healthy Lifestyles – Have Your Say’, a report of consultations with children and young people which was conducted to ensure the input of children and young people informed ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland, Obesity Policy and Action Plan, 2016-2025’.  The report of the consultations outlines the views of children and young people on what helps them and what challenges they face in having a healthy lifestyle. Actions in A Healthy Weight for Ireland directly address the issues raised at the consultations with children and young people, including those on the importance of healthy food, physical activity, smoking, the home, schools and the local areas. The report of the children’s consultations was compiled by a research team from University College Cork.

Launching the results, Minister Zappone commented,

I am very pleased to launch Healthy Lifestyles Have Your Say which outlines the views of children and young people on factors that help and hinder them in having a healthy lifestyle.

“Body image and media influences were identified as the main barriers to a healthy lifestyle among teenagers, including the pressure to conform to a particular body image. Exam stress and heavy study workloads were identified as contributing to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. Other school-related issues identified by young people include their criticisms of the teaching of social, personal and health education (SPHE) and the lack of choice in physical education, with the few alternatives to team sports it offers and its failure to cater for different interests.

“There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of giving children and young people a voice in decisions that affect their lives, including the fact that it leads to more effective polices and services. My Department is strongly committed to the participation by children and young people in decision making and we are proud to be the first country in Europe to have published a National Strategy on Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making (2015–2020)”.

Speaking at the launch of “A Healthy Weight for Ireland”, Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD, commented that,

There is no single solution to addressing the causes and problems associated with overweight and obesity. The 60 actions in the Plan require engagement with many sectors beyond the health service. We intend to act now and to do so together, in a planned and coordinated way.

“This Policy sets out effective and sustainable actions that will be taken by government, statutory and other sectors, communities and individuals.  These include legislative, fiscal and environmental measures.  Prevention is key and there will be a focus on children and on reducing the inequalities that are evident.”

A Healthy Weight for Ireland” recognises that there are socio-economic inequalities in the occurrence of obesity in Ireland with rates considerably higher in the most disadvantaged areas. This will include action by the HSE to develop community based health promotion programmes with special focus on disadvantaged areas.

Progress on implementation of the Obesity Policy and Action Plan will be reported to the Healthy Ireland Cross Sectoral Group by the Department of Health.  In addition, the Department of Health will regularly review outcomes; develop a suite of performance indicators to monitor progress on implementation; will develop a nutrition health surveillance system and a national physical activity surveillance system in order to report annually on the implementation of the Plan. The Department of Health will also conduct a mid-term review on overall progress in achieving the targets.