Belfast Telegraph

Irish army urged to wage war on obesity

Irish schoolchildren are so unfit and overweight that a new Oireachtas report has called for the army to be drafted into classrooms.

The radical suggestion is made in a new study urging members of the Irish Defence Forces to help unhealthy students get into shape.

Most of them fail to meet the recommended minimum for physical education (PE) in schools, while obesity rates are growing very rapidly.

Up to 60 minutes' moderate to vigorous activity a day is recommended. But, according to the report, these basic targets are not being met by most.

It also points to a separate major study which found that the vast majority of Irish pupils spend more than the maximum recommended on 'screen time' -- that is, in front of their TVs, DVDs and computers.

To combat this, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Women's Rights has said that soldiers and other military personnel could be used to support the delivery of sport and PE programmes in schools.

The Irish Defence Forces declined to comment last night. But the idea has found little favour with teachers, with one union leader saying it was hard to see the report being implemented.

Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Peter MacMenamin said Defence Forces personnel would have to get teacher training and garda clearance before they could go into schools, all of which would cost money.

"We would be better off looking at possible savings in the Defence Forces to restore some of the education cuts," he told the Irish Independent.

Despite this, the report says that other countries have developed programmes between the military and the wider community, including schools.

It recommends partnerships between military barracks and local schools with the aim of supporting the promotion of physical activity and the delivery of PE in the schools.

This could be done on a pilot basis in two or three locations throughout the country, the report argues. This could take the form of enabling access to facilities (sports halls, gyms, playing fields); sharing sports equipment (for orienteering, adventure sports); and providing appropriately qualified military personnel to support the delivery of physical activity and PE programmes.

It also recommends developing a Defence Forces Week of Youth Sport and Physical Activity. The focus of the week would be on promoting a broad range of physical activities to as wide a reach of children as possible, and exposing them to new physical activities.

Belfast Telegraph

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