Limerick TD calls for healthy flags in schools to combat obesity

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

DEPUTY Patrick O’Donovan has called for a healthy flag in schools to help combat obesity like the Green Flag programme.

DEPUTY Patrick O’Donovan has called for a healthy flag in schools to help combat obesity like the Green Flag programme.

The Green Flag initiative has been a major success in primary schools in encouraging pupils to be environmentally friendly. A school receives a flag for each theme - litter and waste, energy, water, travel and bio-diversity.

Now, the Fine Gael deputy has called for the Government to introduce a healthy flag to encourage schools to adopt healthy eating programmes for their students.

About two thirds of adults and one in five Irish children are overweight or obese.

“Incentives work and I think the incentive of being offered a healthy flag could encourage schools to introduce healthy eating and exercise programmes for their students.

“It would be primarily focussed on education and it would not have to result in any extra cost for schools.

“Students could be encouraged to complete projects on the importance of a balanced diet and exercise,” said Mr O’Donovan, who has previously called for a health levy on video games.

Since he was elected a TD, one of the issues he has focused on is childhood and adult obesity.

When the former teacher was doing his training one of his pupils was a 7 year-old boy weighing nearly 11 stone.

“He couldn’t physically fit into the desk, his parents couldn’t get a uniform to fit him. There are children going in to hospitals where the only remedy is a gastric bypass,” said Mr O’Donovan, who adds that obesity is an “ever increasing problem” in Ireland.

“For Government, it extends far beyond the Department of Health. Obesity is linked to a range of serious illnesses, putting additional strain on already burdened health service, and on our public finances in general. A recent study by University College Cork found that the annual cost of obesity is more than €1 billion,” said Mr O’Donovan.

He also believes the appointment of an ‘obesity tsar’ could help to raise awareness about this spiralling problem.

“A well-known personality could help to front an anti-obesity campaign, similar to the way in which Gay Byrne acts as a spokesperson for the Road Safety Authority.

“This obesity tsar could help to hold policy makers to account to ensure this issue is given the prioritisation it deserves,” said Mr O’Donovan.

The frightening obesity statistics in Irish adults and children is leading to higher rates of cancer, diabetes and other serious conditions.

“It is only through education on the impact of our lifestyle choices that we will curb this extremely damaging epidemic,” concluded Deputy O’Donovan.

With TV programmes like Operation Transformation on at the moment diet and exercise is being highlighted but Mr O’Donovan says the campaign needs to be 12 months a year.