The Government has launched a new strategy aimed at tackling Ireland’s growing obesity problem.The action plan includes a proposal for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.
The “healthy weight for Ireland” policy seeks a targeted reduction in the excess weight of adults and children by promoting healthy eating, exercise and working with the food industry to produce healthier products.
The policy aims to achieve an annual reduction of 0.5% in the excess weight in adults and children every year until 2025.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said obesity is a ticking time bomb which has already to some extent exploded as 60% of adults and 1-in-4 children in Ireland are either overweight or obese.
He said the action plan which includes a national physical activity plan and proposals for healthy lifestyles in schools is needed to prevent Ireland becoming the fattest country in Europe.
Dr Donal O’Shea of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland welcomed the plan saying it is the best shot yet at tackling the problem but he said it will be effective only if it is properly resourced. 60% of adults and one in four children living in Ireland are either overweight or obese.
A clinical lead for obesity will also be appointed by the Health Service Executive.
Earlier, Minister of State at the Department of Health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said Ireland is “becoming the fattest nation in Europe” and the new strategy aims to get people to a healthy weight “as a norm”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Corcoran Kennedy said she hoped a sugar tax will feature in Budget 2017 to raise funds for a Healthy Ireland Fund.
The fund would encourage communities to come up with good ideas for healthy living, she said.
Ms Corcoran Kennedy defended the decision to introduce a voluntary code for advertising and marketing of food, instead of a full prohibition on marketing of high fat and sugar tax before 9pm and for children.
She said it is hoped that “everyone in good faith signs up and it works” otherwise legislation will be required.
Ms Corcoran Kennedy said calorie posting legislation for fast food and a sugar, sweetened drinks levy – or sugar tax – will help.