Obesity prevention

Obesity continues to be one of the most important public health challenges facing Northern Ireland. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of life threatening disease, and its costs extend far beyond the public sector affecting individuals, families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.

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A Fitter Future for All

To help reduce the harm related to overweight and obesity, DoH has developed the ‘Fitter Future for All’ framework which was launched on the 9th of March 2012.

This framework aims to:

empower the population of Northern Ireland to make health choices, reduce the risk of overweight and obesity related diseases and improve health and wellbeing, by creating an environment that supports and promotes a physically active lifestyle and a healthy diet.

Two progress reports for the 2012-2015 short term outcomes have now been completed.

The first is a two year update report and the second is a final report covering the actions taken for the short term outcomes for 2012-2015These outcomes have now been updated and will not be reported on again.

Physical activity

There is a clear link between physical inactivity and chronic disease and premature death. Therefore, everyone should try to take part in appropriate levels of physical activity. The risks of engaging in physical activity are low, but the risks of poor health resulting from inactivity are high.

The four UK Chief Medical Officer have issued recommendations as to the daily amount of physical activity people should be participating in to help to maintain health. The UK-wide recommendations, which cover the entire life course of the individual is called Start Active, Stay Active(external link opens in a new window / tab): A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers.

The four UK Chief Medical Officers have also launched a guide for adults to help people to stay active and healthy using simple steps every day. This physical activity infographic highlights easy ways to lead an active and healthy life, doing everyday activities like carrying shopping bags upstairs and walking to work. In addition, similar guidance has now also been published for children and young people(external link opens in a new window / tab) and for children under the age of 5(external link opens in a new window / tab).

The Public Health Agency website, ‘Get a Life, Get Active’,(external link opens in a new window / tab) contains some useful information regarding physical activity.

Food and nutrition

Eating high fat, energy dense foods can create an over eating effect and contribute to overweight and obesity. It is also recognised that evolving eating patterns have a key role to play, for example, there is more snacking and greater dependence on processed and prepared foods. ‘A Fitter Future for All’ contains actions which will work to redress our current eating habits and ensure that we can make healthier food choices.

The food in schools policy

The ‘Food in Schools Policy – Healthy Food for Health Outcomes(external link opens in a new window / tab)‘ was launched in September 2013 by DoH and DE. This is an overarching policy advocating a ‘whole-school approach’ to all food provided by schools. It was developed jointly by both DoH and DE in response to concerns about rising levels of overweight and obesity in children and young people, and will help to ensure that relevant outcomes within the current ‘Obesity Prevention Framework – A Fitter Future for All’ will be achieved.

Childhood Obesity Campaign

Tackling Childhood Obesity is a public health priority, with 1 in 4 children across the island of Ireland now carrying excess weight. Without action to reverse the trends we’re seeing in our own and our children’s weight and health, the next generation will be beset with significant ill-health related to overweight and obesity, most of which is potentially preventable.

With research indicating a demand for practical solutions but in small, achievable steps, the campaign messaging will focus on six core actions for parents, on a phased, three-year basis:

  • understanding portion sizes for children
  • how to manage treat foods like sweets, crisps and chocolate
  • being more physically active
  • reducing screen-time
  • replacing sugary drinks
  • encouraging more sleep

The Special Advisory Group on Obesity (SAGO), the Healthy Ireland Framework in the Republic of Ireland and the Fitter Futures for All Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland form the strategic basis for the campaign.

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