A HEALTHY Weight for Ireland is the title given to the government’s new national obesity policy and action plan for 2016 to 2025, which is a most welcome initiative and one that has not come a moment too soon, given the amount of adults and children in this country who are overweight.
This is mainly because of the sedentary lifestyles too many people lead nowadays, allied to bad dietary habits involving unhealthy processed foods containing additives that make some of them seem addictive and they also tend to be cheaper and more convenient to prepare than the more wholesome alternatives.
While the plan was published by Minister for Health Simon Harris, the actions it proposes involve several government departments and State agencies. The most important of these will be in the area of education of the current and coming generations of children, which is crucial in tackling the scourge of obesity. Their parents need to be educated also because so many of them already have bad eating habits and they are the primary influencers.
Among the actions set out by the plan are to develop a code of practice for food and beverages promotion, marketing and sponsorship, as well as the development of guidelines for planners around ‘no fry zones,’ a national nutrition policy, the appointment of a clinical lead for obesity and a special focus on disadvantaged areas for health promotion programmes.
Another measure that has long been mooted is the so-called sugar tax on fizzy drinks, but indications are that it will not be introduced for another two years. It is important in the meantime that the health authorities engage with food manufacturers regarding the levels of sugar, salt and fats they are putting into the foods they are processing.
The plan is necessarily ambitious, but achieving its aims is going to be a mammoth undertaking and one that will need quite a bit of investment and co-ordination to implement effectively. The government should heed the Irish Heart Foundation’s warning that any further ‘implementation paralysis’ in tackling the problem will have devastating consequences for the future health of our children.
Urgent action is now needed.