Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION - with Dar­ragh Clif­ford

LAST Satur­day af­ter­noon, I had the plea­sure of doing some bag pack­ing at a busy lo­cal supermarke­t in aid of Crum­lin Chil­dren’s Hospital. I was more than happy to do it, as the money raised was go­ing to such a fan­tas­tic cause.

By and large, it was a re­ally pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, with most if not all cus­tomers happy to ex­change pleas­antries with the vol­un­teers as we tried our best to pack away their gro­ceries in an or­derly fash­ion.

Stand­ing at a busy check­out for the af­ter­noon was also a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as it gave a real in­sight into what goes into a per­son’s weekly shop.

I wish I could re­port that I was blown away by the con­tents of the shop­ping trol­leys, but in fact I was hor­ri­fied by the level of junk food peo­ple were buy­ing. The amount of pro­cessed, sug­ary, fatty food that was be­ing pur­chased along with litres of fizzy drinks was down­right de­press­ing.

In May 2018 the Government in­tro­duced a sugar sweet­ened drink (SSD) tax, aimed at re­duc­ing the amount of fizzy bev­er­ages be­ing con­sumed in Ire­land in an ef­fort to curb grow­ing levels of obe­sity and gen­eral ill health among the na­tion. If last Satur­day was any­thing to go by, this tax is not work­ing.

This week it was an­nounced that the SSD tax raised €31.72m in the first year, but unlike the UK, the money has gone straight into the Ex­che­quer pool rather than be­ing ring-fenced to di­rectly tackle the obe­sity cri­sis.

Pro­fes­sor Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s lead on obe­sity, has called it a ‘missed op­por­tu­nity’ that this money is not be­ing di­rectly used for treat­ment and pre­ven­tion of obe­sity.

In an in­ter­est­ing tan­gent, last week­end Se­na­tor Catherine Noone has called on the

Government to in­tro­duce free gym mem­ber­ships to chil­dren and teenagers in a bid to tackle the teenage binge-drink­ing cri­sis.

She ref­er­enced Ice­land, where the government there sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced al­co­hol abuse by giv­ing each child aged be­tween six and 18 a card for €350-worth of free mem­ber­ship of gyms, sports clubs, dance and mu­sic schools and youth clubs.

It’s safe to say such an ini­tia­tive would also have a pos­i­tive effect on child­hood obe­sity rates.

But should we be re­ly­ing on our Government to en­sure our chil­dren and teenagers are liv­ing a healthy lifestyle? Don’t get me wrong, any such mea­sure like what was in­tro­duced in Ice­land would be most welcome here.

But if par­ents keep fill­ing their weekly shop­ping trol­leys with crap, it won’t mat­ter what Government poli­cies are in­tro­duced as their im­pact will be min­i­mal.

First and fore­most, chil­dren learn from the be­hav­iour of their par­ents. So if we want the youth of to­day to en­gage in a healthy, ac­tive lifestyle, we should start by doing like­wise our­selves. Quite simply, cut out the crap folks, and don’t wait for the Government to try and solve the prob­lem for us.

Se­na­tor Catherine Noone.

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