Ireland to follow neighbours' initiatives against obesity

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Obesity, Nutrition

Ireland is the latest European state to call for new guidelines on
food labelling and a ban on vending machines in schools in order to
slow down the growing rise in obesity.

The country's premier Bertie Ahern said last week that he was hoping to take "a leadership role"​ on promotion of healthy eating in the same way that Ireland has set a worldfirst example with its smoking ban.

Last week Ireland's National Taskforce on Obesity presented the government with a report recommending a ban on vending machines in primary schools, a new education and training programme for health professionals, guidelines for food labelling, an examination of fiscal policy and its impact on overweight and obesity, and guidelines for the detection and treatment of overweight and obesity.

Obesity is estimated to cause around 2,000 premature deaths each year among an Irish population of around 4 million. About 18 per cent of adults are obese and 39 per cent are overweight.

Many of the report's recommendations followed those proposed in the UK, which has been the most proactive in its approach to obesity among European nations, perhaps linked to the scale of its obesity problem.

France's opposition party has also called for increased government action in this area, issuing a proposal in March to introduce more easily understood nutritional information on food labels, particularly in regards to calories, sugars, fats and salt.

It also suggested including a health warning on certain products and restriction of TV advertising for junk foods, as well as labelling of calories on foods served in cafeterias.

John Treacy, chairman of the Irish obesity taskforce that was set up in March 2004, said the group was particularly concerned that childhood obesity has become one of the most prevalent childhood diseases in Europe, with overweight and obesity affecting more than 300,000 children in Ireland alone.

He described the report recommendations as "realistic and achievable".

Among these, the taskforce has proposed that the government carry out research to examine the influence of fiscal policies on consumer purchasing and their impact on overweight and obesity. These could include risk-benefits assessment of taxation that supports healthy eating and active living, and subsidies for healthy food such as fruit and vegetables.

There should also be action on the marketing and advertising of products that contribute to weight gain, in particular those aimed at children, while the Agriculture and Food authorities should review policies to promote access to healthy food.

"Such policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products," it said.

Related topics: Ingredients

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