Council to combat obesity epidemic

Council to combat obesity epidemic

5 June 2019

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council is aiming to help fight the growing obesity crisis across Northern Ireland.

Local politicians are gearing up to declare war on the issue and implement a new policy that will result in high sugar items such as sweets, fizzy drinks and high fat snacks being banned from vending machines in council buildings across the district, including its leisure centres.

The high sugar items will be replaced with healthy choice snacks and drinks with local politicians hoping that other organisations across the district, which have vending machines in their buildings, will follow suit.

A number of local schools have already banned chocolates and crisps from their vending machines with politicians keen to lead from the front in encouraging people to eat more healthily and exercise regularly.

Last year, the local authority launched a new app to make it easier for residents across the district to take part in sport and leisure activities and receive up-to-date information about the local authority’s leisure facilities. 

Now it wants to go a step further to help improve people’s health.

The move to ban high fat and sugary items from vending machines across council buildings, which will be formally discussed later this month, comes after it emerged this week that sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks could soon be sold under cigarette-style plain packaging under plans by a number of leading brands to help combat the obesity epidemic.

A recent Department of Health survey revealed that that 37% of people in Northern Ireland were overweight, with 27% classed as obese with councillors acutely aware that obesity continues to be one of the most important public health challenges.

They recognise that being overweight or obese increases the risk of life threatening disease, with its costs extending far beyond the public sector, affecting individuals, families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.

At Monday night’s monthly meeting of the local authority, politicians agreed to debate the possible ban and view the move as an important step towards tacking the obesity issue.

They aim to encourage people to opt for healthier food choices and to change their diet as part of the drive to create an environment that supports and promotes a physically active lifestyle and healthy diet.

Mournes councillor Willie Clarke, who is spearheading the drive to ban sugary snacks and drinks from council vending machines, said he hopes it will empower people to make healthier choices and reduce the risk of overweight and obesity related diseases.

He said tackling childhood obesity was already a public health priority and was keen for Newry, Mourne and Down Council to do all it could at a time when research suggested that one in four children across the island of Ireland carried excess weight. 

Cllr Clarke said that without action to reverse current trends, the next generation will be beset with significant ill-health related issues linked to obesity, most of which are potentially preventable.

“I am keen for the local council to introduce a new policy to effectively ban high fat and sugary foods and drinks from vending machines across its facilities and replace them with healthy options,” he explained. 

“I also hope that the local authority’s many partner organisations will follow suit. We do not want to see obesity becoming a social norm and I believe we can help make a difference by exercising greater control over what items are in vending machines in all council buildings.

Cllr Clarke said he viewed a ban on sugary snacks and drinks as “just the start” of a concerted campaign to help tackle obesity and get people move towards healthier lifestyles.

“I think it is important that the council takes the lead on an issue which everyone can support. It is essential people significantly reduce their intake of unhealthy food and drinks,” he said.

The local councillor also suggested that the local authority should offer politicians healthy options when they arrive for their tea ahead of the monthly council meetings.

“Healthy options featuring salads, fruit and vegetables should also be on the menu at council-organised functions so people can choose to eat healthily. While I want the council to take the lead on this issue, I hope many other bodies it works alongside will follow suit.

“Working together we can make a difference and help people change their lives. The council’s lead on this issue could have a ripple effect across the district beyond.”

Cllr Clarke added: “This is not about being a kill joy but encouraging people to be more health conscious when it comes to what they eat and drink and is the first step in a process.”