The national health and lifestyle survey, SLÁN, 1999, was commissioned by my Department to provide relevant information for planning health promotion interventions including nutrition. The SLÁN survey showed that 10% of our adult population were obese. By 2001 this had risen to 18% as indicated by The North-South Ireland Food Consumption Survey, conducted by Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance. This gave evidence of a trend towards an increase in obesity. With regard to eating out this survey also showed that up to 25% of total food consumption comes from food and drink taken outside the home, rising to 33% in 18-35 year olds.
A further national health and lifestyle survey, SLÁN, was conducted in 2002, the results of which are due in April-May of this year. The Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, IUNA, is also conducting more detailed research on the incidence of food consumed outside the home, the results of which are due in the autumn of this year. These surveys will give an indication of trends in obesity and the extent of food consumed outside the home.
In that context, I have no plans to conduct a specific study on the impact of fast foods on health until my Department have considered the results of the second national health and lifestyle survey, SLÁN, and the further IUNA research on eating out. However, obesity, which is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, is not caused by diet alone as reported by the international obesity task force and the European Association for the Study of Obesity. In its report, Obesity in Europe – The Case For Action, they describe an obesogenic environment as one which restricts physical activity and stimulates high food energy intake. My Department is currently considering the recommendations of this report.