Belfast Telegraph

Bold action needed to tackle child obesity in Northern Ireland, says Cancer Research UK

(Ian West/PA)
(Ian West/PA)

Bold action is required from the Stormont Executive to tackle child obesity in Northern Ireland after new figures revealed 27% of children are either overweight or obese.

A survey by the Department of Health showed that 19% of children are classed as overweight and 8% were classed as obese.

Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager in NI, said action was needed to encourage people to eat a healthy diet.

She said: “On TV, we’re constantly bombarded with adverts to persuade us to buy foods that are high in sugar and fat. When we go to the supermarket, junk food multibuy offers encourage us to stock up.

“Overweight and obesity is devastating families – excess weight is responsible for around 570 cases of cancer each year in Northern Ireland.

“Action is needed to introduce a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts. Introducing restrictions on junk food price promotions in supermarkets would boost our chances of going home with a healthy shop, ultimately helping to protect future generations in Northern Ireland.”

The Department of Health figures showed around three-quarters of children aged two to 15 were classed as either normal weight or underweight.

The figures also show that around 46% of people eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

People in the most deprived areas (39%) were less likely to meet the five a day guideline than those in the least deprived areas (48%).

Over three-quarters of adults aged 18 and over drink alcohol, 83% of men and 76% of women. Almost a fifth of male drinkers (165) drank on three or more days per week compared with 10% of women drinkers.

Around one-fifth of respondents smoked cigarettes, with people in the most deprived areas (29%) more than twice as likely to smoke than those in least deprived areas (12%).

Meanwhile, around a fifth of people in Northern Ireland may have mental health problems.

The Department of Health said around 18% of respondents to its survey on a general health questionnaire showed signs suggesting they may have a mental health issue.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Health Minister Robin Swann.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Health Minister Robin Swann.

Around a fifth of respondents to the survey also exhibited signs of loneliness with respondents living in urban areas and those in the most deprived areas more likely to suffer loneliness than those in rural areas and the least deprived.

It comes amid calls for a mental health champion at the Department of Health following a recent spate of suicides in Northern Ireland.

Four months ago the department publishes its Protect Life 2 strategy to tackle Northern Ireland's suicide problem, with a greater focus on those bereaved by suicide, more support for those who care for others and enhanced working across departments.

A new Protect Life 2 Regional Steering Group has been set up, chaired by Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy and Health Minister Robin Swann met on Wednesday to discuss funding for the health service.

Mr Murphy said: “The Executive is united in its determination to rebuild our health service. That was evident yesterday with the decision to restore pay parity for nurses and other health staff.

“The New Decade, New Approach document detailed a new action plan on waiting times, reforms in health and social care and better support for victims of contaminated blood.

“That’s why we need a significant funding package from the British Government.

“We need to start repairing the damage to all public services caused by a decade of austerity.”

Mr Swann said: “I welcome the support of the finance minister and the Executive collectively for health.

“We have a massive task in front of us. There are competing demands for additional spending across many key areas.

“The government needs to live up to the commitments it made in the New Decade New Approach document.

“As I said in the Assembly yesterday, if devolution is to deliver, it has to deliver for our health service.”

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