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60% of Northern Ireland adults overweight, and that means big problems in the future, warns minister

Six out of every 10 adults in Northern Ireland are now overweight — with more than one in five defined as obese.

And nearly one in every 10 children have also been assessed as obese.

Health Minister Edwin Poots has sounded alarm bells over the impact of a potential “obesity timebomb”.

Unless the issue is tackled now, he argues, increasing obesity will lead to a multitude of problems in the future.

His warning came ahead of a special conference to be held tomorrow about the role of the fitness industry and the importance of physical activity in disease prevention and public health strategy.

The ‘Moving the Nation’ event, at Brownlow in Craigavon, will discuss how the trend can be reversed and aims to draw up plans for the future.

Mr Poots said the Executive had already endorsed plans to spend more than £7m in tackling the problem of obesity over the next three years.

But he warned the Government alone could not provide a solution.

“It is a significant challenge facing modern society and if we don’t tackle it now we are storing up a multitude of problems for ourselves in the future,” he said.

Mr Poots said that across Northern Ireland 59% of adults are either overweight (36%) or classed as obese (23%).

“Another worrying statistic is that 8% of children aged 2-15 years were assessed as being obese. These figures demonstrate the scale of the problem and the enormous challenge we face,” he said.

The minister said that to date the Government had focused on simply trying to stop the rise in the levels of obesity, but now it wants to reduce obesity levels by 4%.

“This means changing for the better the lives of around 60,000 people,” he said.

“We need to face the issue of obesity head on. It is my intention to invest more than £7m towards tackling the problem over the next three years.”

The 10-year obesity framework proposes a range of measures aimed at:

  • Increasing breastfeeding;
  • Increasing knowledge about food and its preparation;
  • Encouraging participation in physical activity;
  • Promoting more walking and cycling;
  • Making sure how and where we live encourages healthy eating and physical exercise.

Mr Poots argued the negative impact on health caused by obesity cannot be overstated.

“Being obese increases the risk of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, which can cut life expectancy by nine years,” he said. “More and more of our children and young people are becoming overweight or obese and are putting themselves at risk of developing a range of health problems in their later years.

“Evidence shows that it is more likely that an obese child will become an obese adult. This in turn will lead to a greater strain on our health and social care services, with more people requiring treatment and specialist care for obesity-related illnesses,” he added.

“People should be aware of the importance of a healthy diet and taking more exercise. We must act now to avoid a future where our children face significant health problems. Individuals can make choices in everyday life that will protect their health.

“The Government cannot tackle obesity on its own. We can encourage and promote healthy eating and physical activity but as a society, we must take more individual responsibility for our own health outcomes.”

Factfile

The NHS defines obesity as when a person is carrying too much body fat for their height and sex. The most widely used way to measure whether you are overweight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI). This is your weight in kilogrammes divided by your height in metres squared. A person is considered to be obese if they have a BMI of 30 or greater.

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