A public health cri­sis

The Irish Times - - Comment & letters -

Anew re­port show­ing the Repub­lic ranks 58th out of 200 coun­tries for its pro­por­tion of over­weight young peo­ple is an­other re­minder of the on­go­ing public health chal­lenge posed by ris­ing weight lev­els. The re­port in the Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal found a ten­fold in­crease in the rate of obe­sity among Ir­ish boys be­tween 1975 and 2016, and a nine­fold in­crease among Ir­ish girls. It is sober­ing to note that, in 1975, just one per cent of chil­dren in the State were clas­si­fied as obese.

The Lancet study, led by Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, brought to­gether data from 2,416 stud­ies in­volv­ing 128.9 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants world­wide to es­ti­mate trends in body mass in­dex.

It found al­most one-third of Ir­ish chil­dren are now over­weight, while a fifth of chil­dren and teenagers in the US and one-tenth of those in the UK are obese. The health im­pli­ca­tions for these young peo­ple are se­ri­ous: ex­ces­sive weight gain in chil­dren is linked to a higher risk and ear­lier on­set of chronic dis­eases such as type 2 di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and liver dis­ease as well as worse psy­choso­cial and ed­u­ca­tional out­comes.

Prof Ma­jid Ez­zati, one of the study’s au­thors, noted that most high-in­come coun­tries “have been re­luc­tant to use taxes and in­dus­try reg­u­la­tions to change eat­ing and drink­ing be­hav­iours to tackle child obe­sity”.

Coin­ci­den­tally, and after some foot-drag­ging, Ire­land an­nounced plans for a tax on sugar-sweet­ened drinks in the bud­get on Tues­day. It means drinks with a sugar con­tent of 8g per 100ml will be taxed at a rate of 30 cent per litre un­der the new mea­sures.

While the food and drink in­dus­try dis­putes the likely health ben­e­fits of such tax­a­tion, it is an im­por­tant ele­ment in a mul­ti­pronged ap­proach to the obe­sity cri­sis. A na­tional obe­sity treat­ment pro­gramme must now be put in place, along with re­newed and in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns and preven­tion strate­gies. Obe­sity threat­ens a fu­ture tsunami of de­mand across the health ser­vice; it must be tack­led vig­or­ously by Gov­ern­ment.

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