The Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP), ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland’, was launched in September 2016 under the auspices of the Healthy Ireland agenda, as a Government policy response to increasing obesity rates in Ireland. This Policy, which takes a ‘whole system’ approach, and covers a ten-year period up to 2025, was developed with a high degree of consultation, including with children and young people.
The Department of Health established an Obesity Policy Implementation Oversight Group in 2017, which is comprised of representatives from a range of Government Departments and Agencies, including the Department of Education and Skills.
Childhood obesity is a key priority under the Policy. New Healthy Eating Guidelines, Food Pyramid and supporting resources have already been published, disseminated and communicated in 2017, including to all primary and post-primary schools.
In the HSE the Healthy Eating Active Living programme is supporting work in the education sector, as well as with parents, families and communities in delivering a more co-ordinated approach to prevention and early intervention in child obesity. This includes a five-year communications campaign, called START, which is being delivered in collaboration with the HSE and safefood, with a focus on supporting parents to make healthy choices around food and activity.
In addition, new Nutrition Standards for schools, with an initial focus on school meal programmes funded by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, were published in September 2017. They were developed by the Department of Health with the assistance of safefood and the Health Service Executive, in cooperation with the members of the School Meals Programme in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills.
Further, Healthy Food Made Easy is a HSE-led nutrition and cooking programme that is delivered to a variety of groups in the community by trained leaders. The programme covers basic healthy eating messages as well as shopping skills and preparing for dietary change.
In the 2018/19 academic year the Department of Education facilitated the training of post-primary school teachers to deliver Healthy Food Made Easy in schools in all parts of the country. To date, 130 teachers have attended training with HSE Community Dietitians and Health Promotion Officers. This delivery of this programme in the post-primary school setting provides an opportunity to engage young people in a conversation about nutrition and to get some hands-on experience at cooking.
The programme also links well to several Statements of Learning in the new Junior Cycle and schools have integrated into their Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programmes.
Food education is taught as part of SPHE (Social and Personal Health Education) at both primary and secondary level and hands-on cooking experience is a core part of Home Economics, an optional subject at post-primary level. Any changes to the curricula for either of these subjects would be a matter for the Department of Education and Skills.