Two-thirds of Irish children are not getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity, according to new research published today.
The research, undertaken by the Health Service Executive, safefood and the Health Promotion Agency in Northern Ireland, was unveiled at the launch of a major campaign by Minister for Health Promotion and Food Safety Mary Wallace aimed at tackling the problem of obesity in Ireland.
Entitled Little Steps Go a Long Way, the campaign is a major awareness initiative involving television, radio advertising and a website designed to show that small changes to physical activity and food habits can have a big impact on health.
Described as a 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 percent every year.
In 2005 it was estimated that about 2,000 premature deaths in the Republic were attributed to obesity and that these deaths could be costing the State as much as 4 billion a year.
Todays research shows 11% of children aged five to 12 years are overweight, and 11% are obese. More than half of parents find it a struggle to get their children to eat healthily.
Director of Human Health and Nutrition at safefood Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan said childrens eating habits mirror those of their parents and children of normal-weight parents are more likely to have a healthy weight.
Our research has revealed that almost half of all parents prepare a separate meal for their children. Almost 20% of families eat their meals in front of the television more than four times a week, and there is evidence to suggest that eating meals in front of the TV is associated with poorer eating habits, she said.
Ms Wallace said childhood obesity was a threat to the future health of Irish people.
The report of the obesity taskforce identified childhood obesity as a key threat to the future health of people on the island of Ireland. I welcome this campaign, which through concerted action aims to tackle this important issue, she said.
Further information on the Little Steps campaign is available at www.littlesteps.eu.