Facts About….Childhood/Teenage ObesityBy
The World Health Organisation defined obesity as a disease in which excess body fat has accumulated to an extent that health is adversely affected. Chronically overweight individuals face a number of serious health, social and psychological challenges with their quality of life being adversely affected. Obesity increases the risk of a person developing serious illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and strokes.
Obesity is a major public health challenge in Ireland and across Europe. Obesity rates for both children and adults are growing every year and according to a report of the National Taskforce of Obesity, “39% of adults are overweight and 18% are obese in Ireland”. The report also states that childhood obesity has become the most prevalent childhood disease in Europe. It is estimated that over 300,000 children in Ireland are overweight and obese and this is projected to increase annually by 10,000. A quarter of nine year olds are classed as overweight or obese. One in five children ages 5 to 12 is battling with his or her weight. The “Growing up in Ireland in 2009” study found one in four 9 year olds are overweight or obese.
The report notes the importance of balancing food intake with physical exercise. We know that foods high in fat, sugar and starch such as butter/margarine, cakes and biscuits and confectionary promote obesity. At the moment a fifth of Irish children’s energy intake comes from sweets, snacks and biscuits. It is now widely accepted that adults should be involved in 45-60 minutes and children should be involved in at least
60 minutes per day of moderate physical activity in order to prevent excess weight gain.
Elaine attended a recent conference on obesity held in Brussels, Belgium in April 2012 on Tackling Childhood Obesity in Europe: Comparative Perspectives on Prevention and Policy Implementation. According to the European Commission, some 22 million children in the EU are considered overweight or obese, with the numbers growing by 400,000 per year. A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) showed that 13.3% of EU children aged 11-15 are overweight or obese, with numbers rising for boys in all countries.
The EU has a pivotal role to play in dealing with these challenges through its food safety, public health, education and research policies.
In Ireland, it was recently announced at the annual Irish Medical Organisation meeting that a school screening programme would allow for early intervention and regular monitoring to prevent the complications of obesity. If children have serious weight problems they may be referred to their GP and/or a Specialist. It has been proposed that screening would take place and children would be weighed when they start primary school in a bid to tackle Ireland’s growing obesity problem. This initiative is being proposed at present and we look forward to more work being done in this area.