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06 November 2017

A new five-year public health campaign to drive healthy weight for children starts

A major new five-year public health awareness campaign to set families - and in particular, children - on the path to a healthier future has been launched by a multi-agency grouping of safefood, the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency.

With a quarter of children in Northern Ireland aged 2-15 years reported recently as being overweight (17%) or obese (8%)*, the new “START” campaign is set to take a fresh approach to tackling an issue which continues to stack up serious health problems for the next generation.

The START campaign has been developed with the input of parents, health professionals and community educators. It takes a realistic and practical approach which acknowledges that the solutions to tackling overweight and obesity are many, that even small steps can add up to a big result and that every sector has a role to play in addressing this important health issue.

Through multi-layered implementation, the campaign recognises that a society-wide movement is needed to inspire and support parents in their efforts to adopt and stick to healthy lifestyle habits. START seeks to help families in taking that first step and ongoing steps for their children’s health by starting with one daily win, and encouraging them to persist, no matter how often life and the environment intervenes to derail their efforts.

The habits it wants parents to adopt are clear and simple: drink water with meals; add fruit and / or vegetables to meals and snacks; limit sweet treats to occasions; cut down on screen time; give children child-sized portions and plenty of play / activity and sleep time. A half hour less of screen time daily is a win. Moving from two pieces of fruit and veg a day to three is a win. Confining sweet breakfast cereals to the weekend is progress.

The campaign has been designed around four key themes to deliver a system-wide approach to tackling overweight and obesity in society:

Providing families with support and practical advice to help build their confidence in making positive changes to their lives.
Delivering a consistent approach across all relevant sectors including schools, hospitals and GP surgeries.
Supporting sustainable communities and tapping into existing community health programmes.
Tackling the societal and environmental factors which support obesity, by driving for change through key policy initiatives.

Launching the campaign, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride, said: “Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours have become commonplace in our society and these are impacting negatively on our children’s health. This campaign aligns with our Fitter Future for All Framework 2012-2022, whose overall aim is to empower the population of Northern Ireland to make healthy choices, reduce the risk of overweight and obesity-related diseases and improve health and well-being, by creating an environment that supports a physically active lifestyle and a healthy diet.”

Prof Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health (NI), continued: “Despite some progress being made, there has yet to be significant statistical change in the levels of overweight and obesity in children here. We must work together to deliver a consistent approach across all relevant sectors including schools, early years settings, hospitals and GP surgeries to help parents to feel both supported and empowered to make these changes lifelong and lasting. Like most of life’s challenges, the hardest step is the first one and this campaign recognises that making a start is the vital initial step towards the bigger goal of better child health and healthier families of the future.”

Caroline Bloomfield, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Manager, Public Health Agency, said: “We have made a good start working in schools and other early years settings in beginning to address the issues of childhood obesity and, as this work continues, we’re asking parents to get on board and make small daily changes to help get our kids on the road to healthier living.

“We know the difficulties parents can face every day in making the right food choices and trying to build more activity in to the day – it isn’t always easy. That’s why we’re encouraging and supporting parents to take small steps in the right direction which over time will have a positive health impact on our children of today and our adults of the future.”

Dr Marian O’Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition, safefood added, “Parents have been part of our campaign development from the beginning and we’ve listened to them to understand the challenges of parenting. Through the campaign advertising, we hope to reflect the real lives of parents while also inspiring, empowering and supporting them to make a start. We want to build on this and our social and digital tools will allow these conversations to continue among parents so they can share their own insights, tips and healthy hacks. There is no easy answer to this, we recognise that parenting is tough but we know parents are tougher and this campaign encourages a “never fail to make an attempt” attitude. It is a key initiative for safefood and our partners and we look forward to helping parents build on their positive starts.”

To find out more about the campaign visit makeastart.org.

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