As Minister for Health, I have made overweight and obesity a public health priority and have established a Special Action Group on Obesity (SAGO) with whom I meet regularly to progress the obesity agenda. The range of measures being implemented by my Department seek to promote a healthy lifestyle, to encourage adults and children to make healthier food choices and to become more active.
SAGO is working on a combination of priority actions which, taken together, should make a difference in the long term. These measures include:
- Calorie posting in restaurants;
- Healthy Eating Guidelines;
- Marketing of Food and Drink to Children;
- Treatment Algorithms;
- Opportunistic Screening and Monitoring for overweight and obesity;
- Vending Machines in Schools and
- A Physical Activity Plan.
SAGO is also currently looking at ways to promote healthy eating, in accordance with this Department's Healthy Eating Guidelines.
The Health & Well-being Programme in the Department of Health is working with the HSE and Safefood to develop an integrated advertising and promotional campaign (September 2013) with the objective of increasing awareness among the parents of children of the health challenges posed by excess weight of their children;
- Target audience include primary carers of children aged between 1 to 12 and key influencers, health professionals, community development workers and educators;
- Key partners are being identified along with opportunities for them to come on board and deliver some of their existing projects in the context of the broader campaign;
- The core message of the campaign will be broadly focused at families in general and what to do if they recognise unhealthy behaviours as opposed to focusing specifically on weight status. The issues of body image and the ‘stigma’ of being overweight/obese are critical factors to be borne in mind in all aspects of the campaign.
As Minister for Health, I also arranged an EU Informal Ministerial meeting during our Presidency and I am pleased to say that Childhood Overweight and Obesity was a key element of this. The European Union are drafting an Action Plan for Member States to take this work forward.
The HSE has a significant involvement in relation to childhood obesity. This includes 3 intervention programmes and 18 national prevention programmes targeting children. There are also regional obesity intervention and prevention programmes.
The HSE is also involved with the W82GO programme and has recently agreed that the programme will be expanded in Dublin. The HSE has also advised me that it will be training a further 12 people across the country and may extend the programme further next year.