Minister for Health announces cohesive approach to tackling obesity on World Obesity Day

Published on: 04 March 2021

Today March 4th on World Obesity Day, the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and Health Research Board are coming together to announce a concerted approach to obesity prevention and care for people living with overweight or obesity. The new approach includes community-based programmes and health interventions in areas of socio-economic deprivation, enhanced community care resources including the recruitment of additional dietitians for weight management and chronic disease management across the country and the announcement of an overarching HSE Model of Care for the Management of Overweight and Obesity1.

Welcoming the announcement of these co-ordinated measures to tackle obesity, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD said: “Overweight and obesity are challenging for people to manage and of course we all recognise that prevention is vital. Today’s announcement is a very important milestone for health in Ireland. The prevention and management of obesity has been identified as a target area for the continued implementation of Sláintecare and by the HSE in its new Corporate Plan. Taking a coordinated approach to tackling obesity is really important and I wish to commend the work of the Obesity Policy Implementation and Oversight Group – OPIOG, which is chaired by my Department, and involves colleagues and stakeholders from right across government, agencies and academia.   

“With these new measures, we will see an effect not only on broad health outcomes, but also on the many conditions negatively impacted by obesity, including type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and COVID-19. We recognise that obesity is a chronic, multifactorial disease as well as a driver of other diseases, with serious implications for individuals, families, societies and economies. We will now be better placed to tackle this disease, from prevention, through community care supports to treatment.”

Minister Donnelly continued “I want to congratulate the HSE for the excellent work on the Model of Care for the Management of Overweight and Obesity which sets out how healthcare for children, young people and adults living with overweight and obesity in Ireland should be organised and resourced now and into the future. When implemented, the Model of Care will ensure that an end-to-end approach is adopted and that the right care is delivered to individuals with overweight and obesity at the right time and in the right place, in line with Sláintecare health and social care reform.”

Dr. Donal O’Shea, HSE National Clinical Lead for Obesity said: “I am personally delighted to be associated with announcing these measures on World Obesity Day along with my colleagues in the HSE, RCPI, Sláintecare and across the health system today. This is the culmination of years of work by many people – with the patient journey at the centre of our thinking and planning. The lessons from other diseases like heart disease and lung cancer is that you only really start to win the overall battle when you begin actively treating the disease – that energises all the efforts around prevention, early detection and early treatment.

“The specialised treatment of people living with complicated obesity has been underfunded to date.  Resources are starting to be put in place to address this and build up our capacity, including for specialist assessment and surgery where needed. Today’s bringing together of all the strands of activity in the obesity space gives genuine cause for hope that the journey for people living with obesity will become a little easier.”

Welcoming the launch of the HSE’s Model of Care, Susie Birney from the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity said: “We are excited to see these developments which will directly improve the lives of people living with obesity. Having our voices heard during the lead up to the publication of the model of care has been important and we will continue to work alongside all involved to do what it takes to implement these plans.  The theme for World Obesity Day this year is “Addressing Obesity Together”, this is very appropriate for what is happening right now here in Ireland.”

Minister of State Frank Feighan TD said: “We know in Ireland that overweight and obesity affect the majority of people, 60% of adults are either overweight or have obesity as well as at least 1 in 5 children. It is in everybody’s interest to help change these levels. 

“Individual body weight is affected by many factors including our genetics, behaviours and environment.   The department is working closely with other EU colleagues to examine how policy in areas such as food reformulation, front-of-package labelling, promotion and marketing of foods can help. 

“For children and young people, overweight and obesity can profoundly affect their physical health, social and emotional well-being and self-esteem.  One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is to start them on a path to healthy lifestyle behaviours in relation to healthy eating, physical activity, sleep and screen-time. The HSE through initiatives such as and the START campaign supports parents to introduce healthy behaviours to their children. Our goal through Healthy Ireland is to inspire and support this behaviour change and to engage citizens in bringing it about, empowering communities and individuals to live healthier lives.”

Continuing to develop the evidence base around obesity is crucial to supporting the approach to preventing and treating obesity.  According to Dr Mairead O Driscoll, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board: “The HRB is currently managing investment of €18 million in obesity-related research. From tackling childhood obesity to narrowing the gap between what we know about diet and health and what we do, our funding generates evidence to inform healthcare policy and practice, but also provides individuals with the evidence they can trust to manage their own health.”

The Obesity Policy and Action Plan (OPAP)2, was launched in 2016 and covers the period up to 2025.  It aims to reverse obesity trends, prevent health complications and reduce the overall burden for individuals, families, the health system, and the wider society and economy. The Policy will be refreshed in 2021, taking into account the progress made since its publication and the enhanced level of coordination across the stakeholders involved.  Implementation of the obesity policy is overseen by a cross-sectoral group (Obesity Policy Implementation and Oversight Group – OPIOG) chaired by the Department of Health.