Health Minister welcomes appointment of clinical lead for obesity

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is "delighted" with the appointment of Professor Donal O'Shea as the HSE national clinical lead for obesity.

Minister Harris described Prof. O'Shea as a passionate advocate in the area of obesity.

"Professor O'Shea's appointment will strengthen clinical leadership within the health service across prevention, early intervention and treatment of overweight and obesity," he said.

"The appointment of a National Clinical Lead for Obesity is a key action under our national Obesity policy, A Healthy Weight for Ireland:Obesity Policy and Action Plan(OPAP)," he added.

OPAP aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications and reduce burdens on the health system.

His comments were echoed by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne who added that Prof O'Shea's appointment will further progress the Government's 'Ten Step' plan to tackle obesity.

"I am glad to report that almost all of the Ten Steps Forward are being progressed, as addressing these is such an important public health and wellbeing challenge," she said.

Prof. O'Shea told RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke yesterday that "aggressive" prevention and treatment methods were required to deal with the obesity problem.

He said chronic diseases like obesity, cancer and depression can be mapped in relation to socioeconomic areas and people should not blame parents for childhood obesity.

"12% of our three-year-olds in socially deprived areas are obese, 4% of our three-year-olds in better off areas are obese. That's a massive disparity by the age of three," Prof. O'Shea said.

"We know that obesity spreads through your environment. If a friend of yours becomes obese in the next five years, your risk of becoming obese increases by 70%," he added.

Describing himself as a "proud member" of Ireland's public health service, he acknowledged access to services and a lack of resources were still big problems.

"We simply can't afford optimum healthcare across the population. It would break the bank almost on a single disease if you were to do that. We have to decide how we use our resources.

"Previously we used to just throw money at a problem and you'd set up units without planning them. What has been made very clear to me is that there isn't spare money in the health service," he added.

Prof. O'Shea also called for a tax on sugar, which is expected to be outlined by the Government in upcoming Budgets, which could raise money for obesity prevention.

"If you introduce a sugar tax you would educate people. It's a behaviour tax - a bit like the plastic bag tax. You would generate money. The Department of Finance say you can't put that money into obesity prevention but I would say that attitude has to change."

KEYWORDS: obesity, health


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