Childhood obesity will be associated with more than 30,000 premature deaths in Northern Ireland and cost £2.2 billion, a public health symposium in Belfast was told.
The symposium hosted yesterday by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland presented new research on the economic and moral imperatives for tackling childhood obesity in Northern Ireland.
Prof Kevin Balanda, from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, presented research on the lifetime impact and cost of childhood obesity which showed;
- Of all the children alive in Northern Ireland in 2015, more than 30,000 are expected to die prematurely as a result of childhood obesity.
- The total lifetime cost of childhood obesity in Northern Ireland was £2.2 billion. These costs will be incurred over the lifetime of Northern Ireland’s children population (2015 values).
- Direct healthcare costs of £602.5 million make up 27% of the total financial cost. The majority of costs (73%) are related to the economy due to lost productivity (as a result of premature deaths and absenteeism) and lifetime income losses.
- It was estimated that a five per cent reduction in average childhood Body Mass Index (BMI) would save £351.8 million (in 2015 values).
Balanda said: “Obesity is a significant public health issue on the island of Ireland. The lifetime burden of childhood obesity is huge and, if unaddressed, will pose a burden for future generations, the economy and our healthcare system. The research suggests that modest changes in the average childhood BMI will result in substantial savings."
Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden, of the Open University, presented research on the marketing techniques that food companies use to target children. Her research found that junk food companies use subtle and sophisticated digital marketing methods online and on social media to influence children. For example; junk food brands can use geo-location data from mobile devices to deliver ads and offers in real time when children are in the area to encourage them to ‘walk in and buy’.
Dr Tatlow-Golden added: "Children are exposed to high fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks advertising on a daily basis. Strong efforts around regulation and policy changes are needed if we are to protect children’s long-term health. We are at a ‘crunch’ moment with multiple opportunities now live, or poised to happen, in both the UK and the Republic, through government consultation, regulation and policy. Children are ill equipped to deal with sophisticated marketing techniques and it is our responsibility to protect them."
Liz Redmond, Director of Population Health in the Department of Health Northern Ireland, said the symposium highlighted the health and economic imperatives of urgently tackling childhood obesity.
Gary Maxell, from the Department of Health Northern Ireland, said that childhood obesity is recognised as a major public health problem in Northern Ireland and noted that the ‘Fitter Future for All’ Framework aims to reduce the harm related to overweight and obesity. “Today’s findings highlight concerns in relation to children’s vulnerability to the marketing of foods high in fast, salt and sugar on social media, and will help inform our strategic response to addressing overweight and obesity,” he added.
10:30 am Registration and coffee/tea/water
10:45 am Introduction - Prof Kevin Balanda (IPH)
12:20 am Discussion: What are the lessons?
- Lifetime cost of childhood obesity on the island of Ireland report is part of a wider EU Joint Action on Nutrition and Physical Activity (JANPA) research, funded by JANPA and safefood (www.janpa.eu and www.safefood.eu).
- IPH hosts the Obesity Hub – a free online resource for sourcing information on obesity-related policies, projects, reports and studies.
- Since 2011 IPH have been building the evidence base with regard to taxing sugary drinks to support the work of the Departments of Health on the island.