A NEW report by UCC suggests that Ireland is failing in its duty to implement necessary policies to tackle obesity.
Information from the report showed that the country is falling behind in terms of international practice to combat the issue of obesity along with other non-communicable diseases. The findings have led to calls for a reform of Ireland’s ‘food environment.’
This takes into account everything from food production, processing, marketing, and distribution-which are all believed to determine dietary intake.
The first Irish Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) highlights Ireland's stark contrast to other countries when it comes to rolling out so-called ‘no fry zones’, school food policies, and measures to reduce the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
It also shone a light on the lack of fiscal policies to support healthy food choices. Similar findings were highlighted with regard to the lack of support for companies to help provide healthy-eating options to employees. Failures to roll-out evidence-informed labelling for food packaging the need for food composition and targets and standards for processed foods formed another part of the report.
Nonetheless, Ireland rated well in ensuring the public's access to nutritional information and key documents through freedom of information legislation. Ireland also demonstrated international best practice in monitoring overweight and obesity prevalence in the population. It also excelled in implementing procedures to support evidence-informed policymaking.
Dr. Janas Harrington, from UCC’s School of Public Health led the study, which is the first of its kind to benchmark the Irish, appealed to the government to take the issue seriously.
“The government needs to seize an opportunity to improve the diets of the Irish population, prevent obesity and diet-related non communicable diseases by investing in the kind of policies and programmes which have demonstrated success in a number of countries,” Dr Harrington said.
“The benefits are two-fold, aside from improving the health of the general population, these measures are highly cost-effective, and in the long-run can help counteract the rising healthcare costs associated with obesity and diet-related non communicable diseases.”
The report was conducted as part of a wider European project, the Policy Evaluation Network (PEN) in collaboration with research groups from countries such as The Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Poland and New Zealand.
The Food-EPI is an initiative of the INFORMAS Network (International Network for Food and Obesity/NCDs Research, Monitoring and Action Support) and was conducted between January 2018 to June 2020 with a panel of independent and government public health experts.
One of the policy recommendations arising from the report called for nutritional standards for schools including tuck shops. It also recommended the establishment of a committee to monitor and evaluate food-related income support programmes for vulnerable population groups,
The panel conducting the study was made up of a total of 20 representatives from academia, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Safefood, HSE, and charity organisations.