Going Dutch!

The British-Irish Parliamentary Report on Childhood Obesity is a welcome piece of research and it should be used by the Government to direct policies and actions to prevent the increase of obesity in Ireland. The report outlines Ireland’s current position in relation to childhood obesity, finding that the number of people who are overweight and obese has doubled in the last two decades. We need to make impactful changes and, in my view, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands would be a positive move.

In 2013, 26.6% of boys were overweight or obese in Ireland, while 18.3% of boys were overweight and obese in the Netherlands. Moreover, 26.5% of girls in Ireland were overweight and obese, while, 16.1% of girls were overweight and obese in the Netherlands. Furthermore, Ireland has the 12th worst figures in the OECD for childhood obesity, while the Netherlands ranks 31st.

The Netherlands has implemented progressive policies and actions during the last decade and the country is now beginning to see some positive results. These measures have not been light-hearted, but rather they have been impactful and have encouraged meaningful change, resulting in the prevalence of obesity having leveled off and moreover, researchers have begun to see a decline in obesity rates.

The Netherlands has taken an integrated and localised approach to childhood obesity, something that, in my view, we need to pay more attention to achieving in Ireland. The Committee heard, during a delegation visit to the Netherlands, that allocating responsibility to local municipalities and early intervention is key to success. For example, the City of Amsterdam’s integrated approach aims to encourage healthy behaviour in a number of policy areas, targeting schools, homes and neighbourhoods. The programme recognised individual responsibility, but also sought to ensure that being active was an easily accessible option, encouraging town planners to design public spaces that facilitate a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, the City of Amsterdam has proactively stopped the marketing of unhealthy food in the city.

I have sent this report on to the minister, the Health Committee and requested a debate in the Seanad. I believe it is imperative that the recommendations of the report are considered and implemented where possible.


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