According to the latest Government-funded ‘Growing Up in Ireland study’ 19 per cent of three-year-old children were classed as overweight and 6 per cent were in the obese category. This was as part of the study of 10,000 children. Fine Gael Senator Deirdre Clune would like to call for healthy eating habits to be implemented in schools to help address this problem.
I am extremely shocked by these figures, they clearly show that obesity is an epidemic in Irish society and we as adults are responsible for generating a cultural shift to tackle this issue.
It is very important to note that young children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were found more likely to be overweight and have poorer diets than more advantaged families.
According to the research, nine per cent of children living with parents who never worked were classed as obese this is compared with 5 per cent of children in more families of a higher socio economic background.
These children are too young to be in school; however they will start school in the next year or two.
Therefore it is important that schools play a vital role in healthy eating practises as children of all backgrounds spend a large proportion of their days at school.
Although I understand that correct eating begins at home, children need to be fuelling their bodies with the right foods to learn and stay alert at school.
Reshaping attitudes to food needs to be a priority in school as well as in the family space.
There are tuck shops and vending machines in most schools across the country – these are filled with sweet treats, crisps, soft drinks and other highly fattening food and drink.
Schools should be implementing a water only policy to curb the amount of sugary and fattening drinks being consumed daily by some children which significantly increases their calorie intake per day.
We can monitor what our children eat at home but not while they are at school where they could be binging on unhealthy foods.
It is my view that the retail operations should be forced to withdraw their vending machines from schools and teachers could also be mindful of tuck shops perhaps only holding them on special occasions.
I am not opposed to the odd treat for a child; however it is important that children’s eating behaviours are monitored in all environments in order to ensure their well being.
I have put forward all of these suggestions to the appropriate Minister and I intend to continue to apply pressure for these measures to be considered in every school across Ireland.