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We are failing our children – Health charity

21 Nov 2018

“Two thirds of school children in Northern Ireland have a weight problem and we need to act. Parents and government need to do much, much more. Otherwise many of today’s children may be plagued with health issues in later life.”

That was the stark message from Neil Johnston from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke who was commenting on the Northern Ireland Health Survey which was published this week. The annual survey showed that a quarter (27%) of children aged 2-15 were either overweight (18%) or obese (9%), which increases their risk of developing heart disease or stroke in later life.

“The first responsibility for this problem lies with the parents of the children. They need to make sure that their children have both a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity every day.”

“NICHS go into dozens of schools every year in order to ensure that children are hearing the right messages on healthy eating and exercise. We want to help by providing parents with information and by talking directly to the children – so they can both make the right choices to prevent poor health in the future”

“It is clear, however, that the current level of priority given to this problem by government is clearly insufficient as there has been no improvement in the situation in recent years – indeed it continues to get gradually worse. We have plenty of targets and ambition, but the current approach is clearly failing our children.”

“The Sugar Levy has raised over £240m and in England it has been invested in supporting quality PE, physical activity and sport in schools. Northern Ireland’s share of this was about £10m but there has been no attempt to target that money to address childhood obesity.”

“Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke have called for the Sugar Levy funds to be used improving PE in primary schools. This detailed plan – devised and costed by the Ulster University – would have cost less than £2m a year and could have begun to address the fact that we have the least physically active kids in the UK. Sadly, our request fell on deaf ears.”

NICHS also drew attention to the fact that the recent allocation of £100m of funding for ‘transformation’ in the health service had also neglected to ‘ring fence’ any funding for tackling obesity amongst children. Neil Johnston called on the Permanent Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer to explain why the Sugar Levy was not used as it was intended and why the Transformation Fund had not yet been used to address childhood obesity.


For more information, please contact Neil Johnston on 07900 781759.

Notes for Editors

The latest Northern Ireland Department of Health survey has revealed:

The upward obesity trend is more worrying amongst our children and young people. Around a quarter (26%) of children aged 2-15 were either overweight (18%) or obese (9%) in 2017/18, compared to (17%) classed as overweight and (8%) classed as obese in 2016/17.

The proportion of people eating 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day fell from a high of 43% in 2016/17 to 38% in 2017/18 and that almost a fifth (18%) drank sugary fizzy drinks on most days