Almost seven in 10 people believe the Government is not doing enough to confront childhood obesity in Ireland, a new poll shows.
The Ipsos MRBI research for the Irish Heart Foundation reveals 69 per cent feel more can be done to tackle the problem.
“The people of Ireland are telling the Government very clearly through our poll that they want a much bolder approach to protecting children’s health,” said the charity’s childhood obesity campaign manager Helena O’Donnell.
“Our manifesto target of halving the childhood obesity rate by 2030 is a reflection of what the public is demanding.”
In its poll of 1,044 adults last month, only 20 per cent believed the Government is doing enough on childhood obesity, with 11 per cent saying they did not know.
The majority of those who say more must be done are in the 45-54 age group (73 per cent).
The State’s own research estimates 85,000 of today’s generation of children will die prematurely due to being overweight and obesity.
And an ESRI study published in March – a year into the pandemic – showed 29 per cent of 12-year-olds were eating more junk food or sweets since the outbreak.
“The current Government target of reducing childhood obesity by just half of 1 per cent per annum up to 2025 is not ambitious enough in the face of a tenfold increase in the rate since the mid-1970s and even achieving the objective will still leave us with a crisis for our children’s future health,” said Ms O’Donnell.
“In 2013, junk brand advertising to children on television was restricted because of its health impact. Meanwhile, there has been an explosion in digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially even more damaging.”
A growing trend in obesity levels in children, especially during Covid, is evident to childhood obesity campaigner Caroline Cotter, 23.
She is a final year student of home economics in St Angela’s College in Sligo and teaches the subject at an adult education college.
“It is clear to me that junk food companies used the opportunity (during Covid) to keep their unhealthy products centre stage in children’s minds,” said Ms Cotter, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
“We need to break the junk food cycle to improve children’s health. I joined this campaign because I believe a ban on junk food marketing would be a game changer in tackling childhood obesity.
“As an active campaigner, I’ve been in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority about irresponsible advertising by brands loved by young people as this marketing is continuing without penalties.”
The Irish Heart Foundation is now urging everyone to petition their local TDs and Senators, demanding action through a pre-written letter on its website, as part of its ‘Stop Targeting Kids’ drive.
“I encourage other young people to join this campaign to show public demand for increased marketing restrictions,” said Ms Cotter.
“Together we can place the spotlight back on healthy eating and protect the future of children’s health.”
The public can support the campaign by signing the petition on: https://irishheart.ie/advocacy/lower-childhood-obesity-rates/get-involved/political-pledge-to-reduce-childhood-obesity/