New obesity figures spark call for action from Northern Ireland’s top doctor
Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has said people must be inspired to take up healthier lifestyles to tackle the obesity epidemic.
Dr Michael McBride made the comments as an update was published on a 10-year obesity strategy from the Department of Health.
In 2012 59% of adults over 16 and 27% of children aged two to 15 in Northern Ireland were overweight or obese.
For 2017/18 obesity levels increased for adults to 64% and remained static for children at 27%.
The 2022 target is 56% for adults and 25% for children.
"Successfully tackling obesity (levels) will improve people's quality of life, reduce pressures on frontline health services and even benefit our economy by increasing productivity," said Dr McBride.
While progress has been slow, he said the challenge required commitment across a broad spectrum, from health professionals and government departments to individuals.
"I don't want to tell people what they should be eating. I don't want to continually lecture about the importance of physical activity," Mr McBride added.
"I want people to have choices in the way they live their lives, but I think it is absolutely vital that we inspire people to choose healthier food and be more active for the sake of their own health and wellbeing."
Action taken to date includes increased access to breastfeeding and child-minding schemes and improved access to exercise for children in deprived areas.
Councils have also supported Greenway proposals which help children and adults incorporate walking and cycling into their daily routines.
Beth Harding, active school travel manager for the Sustrans walking and cycling charity, said more families were choosing to use the school run for exercise.
Of 400 participating schools, this includes an increase from 34% to 44% of children walking, cycling or scooting to school.
"There are challenges, but we're seeing real success. The journey to school happens daily, so we're encouraging families to bring exercise into that routine as a practical option," she said.
Fionola Meredith, Page 28