All-Ireland campaign to fight obesity epidemic
Public health campaigners from across Ireland have launched a joint campaign aimed at tackling obesity as it reaches epidemic levels.
Safefood, the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland (HPA) and the Republic's Health Service Executive have together launched the awareness campaign involving television, radio advertising and digital activity.
Called Little Steps Go A Long Way, its aim is to encourage people by showing that small changes to physical activity and food habits will have a big impact on health and on the levels of people who are either overweight, or obese.
Described as "one of the most serious public health challenges" by the World Health Organisation, the problem of obesity is at epidemic proportions among adults and children across the island of Ireland and looks set to continue growing at a rate of 1% every year.
It is estimated that about 450 premature deaths in Northern Ireland are attributable to obesity and that the annual cost to the economy could be £500m.
Department of Health research has also shown that 11% of children aged five to 12 are overweight and 11% are obese.
Dr Brian Gaffney of the HPA, said children's eating habits and attitudes to physical activity were influenced by their parents and those around them.
"There is increasing evidence to suggest that chronic disease risks begin in foetal life and continue into old age," he said.
"Poor nutrition during these years is associated with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease. As a result the eating habits of these age groups need particular attention in an effort to promote and protect young people's health so initiatives like these should be welcomed. We hope this campaign will raise parents' awareness of the impact their own behaviour can have on their children's health."
Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, director of human health and nutrition with Safefood, said: "Research has revealed that almost half of all parents prepare a separate meal for their children. Almost 20% of families eat their meals together in front of the TV more than four times a week and there is evidence to suggest that eating meals in front of the TV is associated with poorer eating habits.
"Over half of all parents believe that their children should eat all the food on their plate, but children are the best judges of when they are full.
"We would also encourage parents to be aware of portion sizes and the smaller appetites of their children."