By Trish Darcy, Jan 1 2017 02:00AM
They say knowledge itself is power or to be precise "ipsa scientia potestas est". Taxing sugary drinks alone won't address childhood obesity though the food industry surely needs to have a far greater level of responsibility and role with regard to food quality and marketing, and legislators also need to provide more stringent legislation and regulation with regard to food labeling and marketing.
Food is a social, health, educational, environmental as well as political issue. If we want to be serious about addressing childhood obesity & other related health conditions we must look at the bigger picture of food production, trade & management, the regulation of the food industry, food labelling and marketing. Indeed we as the consumers are not passive shoppers and ultimately we must also take a greater level of personal responsibility with regard to our food choices & our own link in the chain.
However, the reality is if you want to eat healthy it will cost you a lot more & inevitability for those with less income or in the poverty bracket food choices are often based on affordability. Poorer individuals and those with lower levels of education have the highest levels of obesity with Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol and blood pressure persistently higher amongst low-income social classes (ref Healthy Ireland Framework). From a policy perspective a multi-departmental approach must be considered in order to implement policies that will adequately address our present and future health concerns regarding obesity and related chronic health conditions.
That's why I believe we need to provide appropriate education around nutrition & healthy eating to children from the getgo. Is there perhaps a case for bringing back the now reliqueshed Domestic Science, albeit with a more appealing and relevant title and a modern flare? Educating children and indeed their parents/families on nutrition, healthy cooking, GIY foods starting at primary level would provide children with invaluable knowledge and a skill set that would be an investment into their lives now and for the future.
By including healthy eating, nutrition, and cooking skills as compulsory subjects from primary level and right throughout the educational system we will be equipping not only the future generation of consumers, but also their present day families, with the knowledge and skills to make more informed choices when it comes to food and eating. Healthy eating can be done on a budget but it is about providing the information, the science and the skills to do so. I believe our ministers for health, education, children, food, & social protection have a duty of care to the health of our nation. If we are serious about addressing childhood obesity we need to act now and act collectively.
But if we are going to be serious about addressing childhood & adult obesity and give it the due attention that it deserves then we need to also educate our doctors, nurses and consultants in nutrition at third and post graduate level. It is not good enough that those who tend to our health care needs don't have the knowledge or understanding that can treat but also prevent many chronic health conditions. GPs and public health nurses are the first port of call in most communities. They are at the point of contact where these health matters could be addressed appropiately before becoming chronic conditions by offering support and advice regarding healthy eating and dietary behaviours. Indeed linking in with specialist services such as nutritionists, healthy eating workshops, free information nights should be a part of general practice and community health services throughout the country.
Our health system, which is hugely overburdened at present, is not equipped to deal with the increasing numbers of chronic health conditions such as childhood and adult obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease or even still look to a preventative approach with regards to our looming obesity crisis. Can we even imagine what it is going to be like in 30 years time if we keep pursuing this route that we are presently on.
"The projected growth in incidence of chronic diseases will undoubtedly lead Ireland toward an unhealthy and extremely costly, if not unaffordable, future. Action is required to create change and try to address these negative health trends before our problems grow larger" (Healthy Ireland Framework, 2013).
Presently in Ireland:
* 61% of all adults and 25% of 3 year olds are overweight or obese
* 3 out of 4 people over 50 in Ireland are overwight or obese
* 26% of 9-year-olds have a body mass index outside the healthy range
* The incidence of heart disease, cancers, type-2 diabetes, (including type-2 diabetes in children and adolescents) is set to increase.
* Obesity is the leading cause of cancer in non-smokers.
So I'm all for education as an integral part of dealing with our nation's current health situation and tackling childhood obesity. Let's empower the children and adults of our nation by providing them with the knowledge to make healthier food choices and live healthier lives. But lets start with our children now and bring nutrition and healthy eating into the classrooms, into their homes, and into their lives.
"Healthy Ireland Framework"