Recently I attended the launch of the report “Tackling Childhood Obesity” from the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in the Oireachtas. Was I excited - maybe a little (ie. a lot!). Not only was I getting to visit Government buildings as an invited guest (rather than as a paying customer) but I was also going to be part of this report, for which I had made a submission regarding sensory food education for children.
Glad rags on, prep work done and off I toddled - into the great historic building that is the Oireachtas. The meeting was chaired by Alan Farrell TD. Also in attendance were Anne Rabbitte TD, Tom Neville TD, Senator Catherine Noone and Senator Fintan Warfield and representatives from various vested organisations including yours truly.
Anyhow - what I really wanted to share with you is some of the recommendations that relate to the school environment and a little background about them:
Fast-food outlets close to schools: “Obesity rates amongst school children increase by at least 25 percent when fast food outlets are located within 400 metres of a school” said the No Fry Zone 4 Kids Committee. Thus children have access to foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, sold at low prices. The Committee have recommended that the Government should enhance local planning laws to prevent the opening of new fast-food outlets within a defined vicinity of schools.
Drinking water facilities : The W82GO! Weight Management Service in Temple Street Children’s hospital explained that for many families that attend their clinic the idea of drinking water is an unfamiliar one. The Irish Heart Foundation are concerned about the lack of potable water in many schools. The Committee have recommend that the Government seek to improve this and normalise the drinking of water.
Vending machines : 27 percent of post-primary schools have vending machines, dispensing generally unhealthy food. The Committee noted that schools relied on these machines as an income stream but recommended that the Government should ban them and act to ensure that no school is reliant on proceeds from vending machines as an income stream.
Running in the playground : There seems to be a no-run policy in playgrounds in a small number of schools due to the insurance risk. The Committee recommended that the Government identify the scale of this problem and then work with schools and insurance providers to ensure that children are allowed to run during break times.
This is just a snapshot of some of what the report recommended. Other main provisions were for better supports for breast feeding, improved regulation of the marketing of junk food to children, better promotion of physical education and targets for reducing socio-economic inequalities in childhood obesity.
This report will hopefully serve as a stepping stone to a new bill regarding the health of our children. Childhood obesity is a ticking time bomb that can no longer be ignored.