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Demands for action to tackle obesity as deaths in Northern Ireland double

By James Gant

Obesity-related deaths have almost doubled in Northern Ireland in an eight-year period.

Being overweight caused 64 deaths in 2016, up from 33 in 2008, according to Government statistics.

Dr Laura McGowan from the Association for the Study of Obesity said greater awareness of the issue was needed.

“The rise of obesity in our society is not down to one factor alone and it’s not specific to Northern Ireland,” she said.

“We really have to try to think more collectively on all fronts about understanding the causes and the consequences of obesity better so we can intervene, and a huge part of it is to do with our environment.

“We have moved so far from individual choice. It’s no longer considered the case in the academic world. And it’s hugely to do with the social environment, community context we live in.

“Whether that’s the number of fast food outlets by our home or the food in the shops that we can afford, all of these factors are hugely influential beyond personal choice.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility in short, and I think that is really part of the issue, that we have got to learn to tackle it on all fronts and particularly from the top down.

“It’s not about a silver bullet to improve obesity, it’s about lots of action at all levels of society by lots of different groups.” 

Thje Belfast City Council area had the highest number of obesity-related deaths here, with 108 cases between 2008 and 2016, the BBC reported.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon had 57, Antrim and Newtownabbey recorded 49 incidents, and Mid and East Antrim had 48.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said the figures should serve as a wake-up call. “These latest statistics in relation to obesity-related deaths are extremely concerning and need immediate attention,” he said.

Mr McNulty said it was evidence that the Curriculum Sports Programme must be reinstated as soon as possible. The scheme provided primary schools with a coach from either the GAA or Irish Football Association.

However, the Department of Education said it could not make further funding available due to “pressures on the education budget”.

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