DEPUTY Patrick Oâ€™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.
â€œIncentives 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.
â€œIt would be primarily focussed on education and it would not have to result in any extra cost for schools.
â€œStudents could be encouraged to complete projects on the importance of a balanced diet and exercise,â€ said Mr Oâ€™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.
â€œHe couldnâ€™t physically fit into the desk, his parents couldnâ€™t get a uniform to fit him. There are children going in to hospitals where the only remedy is a gastric bypass,â€ said Mr Oâ€™Donovan, who adds that obesity is an â€œever increasing problemâ€ in Ireland.
â€œFor 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 â‚¬1 billion,â€ said Mr Oâ€™Donovan.
He also believes the appointment of an â€˜obesity tsarâ€™ could help to raise awareness about this spiralling problem.
â€œA 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.
â€œThis obesity tsar could help to hold policy makers to account to ensure this issue is given the prioritisation it deserves,â€ said Mr Oâ€™Donovan.
The frightening obesity statistics in Irish adults and children is leading to higher rates of cancer, diabetes and other serious conditions.
â€œIt is only through education on the impact of our lifestyle choices that we will curb this extremely damaging epidemic,â€ concluded Deputy Oâ€™Donovan.
With TV programmes like Operation Transformation on at the moment diet and exercise is being highlighted but Mr Oâ€™Donovan says the campaign needs to be 12 months a year.