Doctors call for ban on sugary drink ads

Some of the country’s top medics have called on the Government to ban the advertisement of sugar-sweetened drinks to children.

With two-thirds of adults and one-quarter of children in Ireland now classed as obese, the Royal College of Physicians Ireland (RCPI) said vulnerable youngsters need to be shielded from slick ads and marketing.

The doctors called for a 9pm watershed for television ads for foods high in fat, salt and sugar and an outright ban on marketing these foods to children.

They also pointed to much-needed actions on other fronts to stop the slide towards an epidemic including a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in next month’s budget and a new watchdog to monitor all marketing and sponsorship aimed at children.

The college said there should be a change in how deaths are recorded to allow for obesity to be listed as a cause on medical certificates.

Professor Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist and co-chair of the RCPI policy group on obesity, said children must be given the best chance for a healthy diet and lifestyle.

“This means, among other things, that children should be protected from advertising and marketing of foods and drinks known to increase overweight and obesity,” he said.

“We cannot expect that industry will take this responsibility on itself.”

The college said a number of improvements could be made in healthcare to promote weight issues including patients being measured or weighed each time they come into contact with a health worker.

It called for sporting ambassadors and organisations to promote physical activity and healthy consumption and said training should be developed to educate health care workers about weight management.

The Royal College of Physicians issued the call as it pointed to horrifying warnings that Ireland is facing an obesity epidemic with 90% of the population expected to be overweight or obese by 2030 unless drastic measures are taken.

In its policy paper, The Race We Don’t Want To Win, it warned that the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is a major driver of childhood weight.

Professor Catherine Hayes, public health specialist and co-chair of the policy group, said under-12s are particularly vulnerable to ad and marketing campaigns.

But she added: “The drivers of the obesity epidemic are multiple and require action on various fronts.

“In addition to adopting a stricter stance in relation to marketing of food to children, there is a need to prioritise healthy eating and physical activity particularly in education settings.”

Prof Hayes called for health professionals to offer consistent, clear and helpful advice on diet and exercise from before conception, through pregnancy and in the infancy period.

She pointed to the importance of breastfeeding, which she said has proven benefits for the weight of the child.

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