Report calls for 'no-fry' zones around schools to help students fight obesity
There should be "no-fry" zones within a kilometre of schools to tackle obesity levels.
That is one of a package of measures proposed in a report that warns the cost of obesity could more than quadruple within the next 15 years to a total of €1,175 a year for every man, woman and child in the State.
The report said that 75pc of Irish schools have at least one fast food outlets within a kilometre - and 30pc have at least five within that distance.
The report added that by targeting a 5pc reduction in the population's body mass index through a package of measures funded by revenue from a sugar-sweetened drinks tax, the annual cost of obesity could be reduced by as much as €394m by 2020.
The Irish Heart Foundation and Social Justice Ireland, which commissioned the report, said research had shown that increases in obesity were a major cause of chronic disease.
Irish Heart Foundation head of advocacy Chris Macey warned that a failure to take decisive action to tackle obesity would impact on health services.
"In addition to the health impact of growing levels of obesity - particularly on our younger generation - the additional financial pressure on our health services means that people with every type of illness would undoubtedly suffer," he said.
"We have to question whether enough is being done to counter this threat, both to individual health and wider society. Policy makers need to recognise that obesity really is a life-or-death issue for many thousands of our citizens.
"The effect of the choices the State makes now will be felt for generations to come," Mr Macey said.
Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland, said that in order to address the huge challenges that obesity presents, they were proposing that the Government implements policies to reduce the population's body mass index by 5pc by 2020.
"Research shows this would produce savings of up to €394m by 2020, not to mention the indirect economic and social benefits of a healthier population," she said.
According to both bodies, a seven-point plan is needed to tackle obesity.
The package of measures proposed includes subsidies for fruit and vegetables, targeted at disadvantaged areas where obesity levels are "almost three times higher than better off communities."
In addition, the report urged that community food initiatives should be developed, including growing food and cooking programmes.
In addition, all junk food should be removed from schools, and the free meals programme should be extended.
It has also urged that consumers be informed about high fat, sugar and salt content with red, amber and green traffic light labelling on food packs.