Northern Ireland children facing a lifetime of illness due to obesity
The shocking extent of Northern Ireland's obesity timebomb can be laid bare today as the Belfast Telegraph reveals more than 20,000 children between two and 10 years old are obese.
Health professionals have warned the NHS is being put under increasing strain through treating killer diseases linked to obesity - including type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Dr Brian Patterson, a member of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Northern Ireland GP committee, said the problem is so serious he is seeing children as young as two who are struggling to breathe because they are so overweight.
"I have parents bringing their children into me, some as young as two, worried they have asthma because they are having problems with their breathing. But it is actually because they are obese," he explained.
Londonderry GP Dr Tom Black said Northern Ireland is facing an obesity epidemic with family doctors reporting they are treating an increasing number of young people deemed to be obese.
The latest government statistics, obtained by the Belfast Telegraph through Freedom of Information, show 1,168 primary one pupils were obese in 2009 - representing over 5% of the year group.
A further 17% of children going into P1 that year were considered to be overweight.
Figures provided by the Public Health Agency estimate that the number of children in Northern Ireland between the ages of two and 10 classified as obese is above 20,000.
Dr Black said: "I talk about the three health epidemics - smoking which we are getting a handle on, alcohol which we are in the middle of at the moment and obesity which is coming over the hill."
He said it is not unusual to see teenage girls who weigh up to 17 stone and are unaware they are putting their health at risk.
He explained: "This is not something that can be solved with medication. Quite simply it is a result of lifestyle and parents have a responsibility to face up to this because they are damaging their children's health.
"Children who are obese are storing up all sorts of problems for the future, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease and breathing problems, and the health service cannot be expected to deal with it."
Dr Black continued: "I think the effect of diabetes due to obesity cannot be underestimated.
"In terms of the burden on the health service, a diabetic patient requires 13 times as much care as the average patient because we have to look after their eyes, kidneys, heart and blood pressure."
Iain Foster, director of Diabetes UK Northern Ireland, said: "Historically, type 2 diabetes was diagnosed in those of old age around the age of 60 or 70 but, as a direct result of our lifestyle, we are now seeing people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their 30s and 40s.
"This is a huge concern and worry as people have to manage their condition effectively over a longer period of time.
"If the condition isn't managed effectively it can result in serious complications such as blindness, stroke, amputation, heart disease and kidney failure."