New sugar tax 'not enough to tackle childhood obesity'
It will take more than the new sugar tax to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic, a leading expert has said.
Dr Cathal McCrory, a senior research fellow at Trinity College Dublin, told a Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs hearing that one in four three-year-olds are now overweight or obese.
He added that Ireland is on target to be the fattest country in Europe by 2030, according to World Health Organisation.
"We need to act urgently to address this problem," he said.
The introduction on Tuesday of the sugar tax, which saw the price of some sugar-sweetened drinks being hiked, may lead to a reduction in unhealthy food consumption, but other strategies are also necessary, Dr McCrory said.
He told the meeting of the Joint Committee that he welcomed the introduction of the sugar tax.
"There does seem to be some relationship between increase in cost and reduced demand for these items," he said.
"What I will say on the other side is this is only one way to approach the problem.
"We recommend that the Government give a political commitment to tackling childhood obesity and develop an action plan to achieve this."
Dr McCrory called for the implementation of a national screening programme that would see Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference being measured in school-age children on a yearly basis.
Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone said that in relation to such a screening programme "I would have thought that we had the perfect opportunity with the under-sixes GP care to ensure that that's happening".
However, Dr McCrory said he had spoken to a few GPs who had given him pretty candid feedback on this.
"A lot of them said to me that quite simply they are too busy to do this in their clinics," he said.
"I think the best way to achieve this is an annual assessment done through the schools as part of a public health visit.
"We have previously shown that a child is 3.2 times more likely to be obese if one parent is overweight or obese and 9.5 times more likely to be obese if both parents are overweight or obese.
"Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against the development of obesity."
Dr McCrory urged that measures to increase breast feeding rates should be a national priority.