Campaign launched to tackle obesity across the island of Ireland showing how littlesteps can lead to a healthier future- NI Release

safefood, Health Promotion Agency NI and Health Service Executive call for reality check on obesity

  • Almost half of all parents prepare separate meals for their children
  • New research reveals that only three out of ten children get the recommended amount of physical activity 2

17 June, 2008. Today, safefood, the Health Promotion Agency NI and the Health Service Executive launched a campaign aimed at tackling the serious problem of obesity across the island of Ireland. The campaign has been informed by new research into children’s eating habits and physical activity levels. The research also looked at parents’ attitudes to eating and physical activity.

Entitled, ‘Little Steps Go A Long Way’, the campaign is a major awareness initiative involving television, radio advertising and digital activity designed to empower people by showing that small changes to physical activity and food habits will have a big impact on health and on the levels of people who are either overweight, or obese.

Described as “one of the most serious public health challenges” by the World Health Organization, the problem of obesity is at epidemic proportions among adults and children across the island of Ireland and looks set to continue growing at a rate of one per cent every year 3. It is estimated that about 450 premature deaths in Northern Ireland are attributable to obesity and that the annual cost to the economy could be as much as £500 million a year 4.

safefood, Health Promotion Agency NI and the Health Service Executive have come together in a partnership approach with one common purpose - to provide one voice and a clear message to the public on the issue of obesity and show how little steps can lead to a healthier future.

Research has shown that 11 per cent of children aged five to 12 years of age are overweight and 11 per cent are obese 5. However research 6 has demonstrated that the majority of mothers of overweight or obese children think that their children’s weight is fine for their age and those who may realise that there is a problem feel overwhelmed by it and think the challenge is too great to tackle. New research 7 conducted for the campaign revealed that six in ten parents find it a struggle getting their children to eat healthy food however, reluctance to trying new foods can be overcome by exposing children to them more frequently.

Dr Brian Gaffney, Chief Executive of the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland, said: “Children’s eating habits and their attitudes to physical activity can be shaped and influenced by their parents and those around them. There is increasing evidence to suggest that chronic disease risks begin in fetal life and continue into old age9. Poor nutrition during these years is associated with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease. As a result the eating habits of these age groups need particular attention in an effort to promote and protect young people’s health so initiatives like these should be welcomed. We hope this campaign will raise parents’ awareness of the impact their own behaviour can have on their children’s health.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood, said: “Research 10 has revealed that almost half of all parents prepare a separate meal for their children. Almost 20 per cent of families 11 eat their meals together in front of the TV more than four times a week and there is evidence 12 to suggest that eating meals in front of the TV is associated with poorer eating habits. Over half of all parents 13 believe that their children should eat all the food on their plate, but children are the best judges of when they are full.  We would also encourage parents to be aware of portion sizes and the smaller appetites of their children. What is concerning is the fact that over four in ten parents 14 reward their children for eating all the food on their plate and this only serves to exacerbate the problem.”

The new research also revealed eight in ten parents 15 feel that their children do the minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, but the reality is quite different with only three in ten children 16 across the island of Ireland meeting that recommendation, despite the fact that 85 per cent 17 of children enjoy physical activity. Children now spend almost as much time at sedentary activities such as watching TV and surfing the web, as they do engaging in any type of physical activity. Furthermore, while 7 in 10 parents 18 agree that their own activity levels and eating habits influence those of their children, just over 1 in 10 parents 19 spontaneously mention making changes to their own habits as a means of tackling potential obesity problems among their children.

Further information is available at www.littlesteps.eu.

For further information please contact

  • Sarah Young, Smarts PR, 02890 395 511 or 07834 924975
  • Kathy Doyle, Smarts PR, 02890 395 509 or 07736 844076

EDITOR’S NOTES

References

  1. An island of Ireland review of children’s eating habits and activity levels and their parents’ attitudes towards eating habits and physical activity, commissioned by safefood and the Health Service Executive in collaboration with the Health Promotion Agency NI and conducted by Millward Brown IMS in April and May 2008 amongst a nationally representative sample of 18-60 year old parents.
  2. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  3. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety,  2005
  4. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2002
  5. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety,  2006
  6. McGloin and Delaney, 2007 - National Children’s Survey
  7. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  8. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Fit futures Focus on food, Activity and Young People DHSSPS, 2005
  9. Programming of chronic disease by impaired fetal nutrition: evidence and implications for policy and intervention strategies. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002 (documents WHO/NHD/02.3 and WHO/NPH/02.1)
  10. Patrick and Nicklas 2005
  11. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  12. Patrick and Nicklas 2005
  13. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  14. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  15. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  16. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  17. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  18. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008
  19. HSE & safefood in collaboration with HPA, NI 2008