Monday 27th July 2020. The Irish Heart Foundation today urged the Government to follow UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lead through tough new action to tackle obesity that has been made more urgent than ever by evidence of a link to increased risk from COVID-19.

The Foundation said there was clear evidence that measures to curb junk food marketing that feature in the new UK strategy such as strict advertising restrictions on broadcast media and online, along with banning promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free, had a crucial role to play in combating our obesity crisis.

But the Irish Government should now look at going even further than their UK counterparts, through a range of additional actions such as mandatory reformulation of unhealthy food and beverages, an extension of the sugar sweetened drink tax to items such as confectionery and an ambitious programme to create a healthier built environment.

“It’s clear that being overweight or obese puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. The more successful we are in limiting the impact of the virus the quicker we will be able to return to some sort of normality, so the case for decisive action on obesity has never been more compelling,” said Irish Heart Foundation Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey.

“Whilst our primary focus has been on tackling childhood obesity – which the State’s own research estimates will result in the premature deaths of over 85,000 of this generation of children on the island of Ireland – it’s clear that a lot more should also been done to protect adults, 61% of whom are overweight or obese.”

Mr Macey said that in addition to reducing exposure to junk food marketing, reformulation and portion size control are among the measures that can have the biggest effect in reducing high levels of fat, sugar and salt in people’s diets. Meanwhile, UK research showed that the sugar sweetened drinks tax had resulted in a 22% reduction in sugar purchased from these products, suggesting that new taxes could also further drive reformulation of unhealthy products.

“The Programme for Government includes a range of important measures which should now be fast-tracked such as plans to implement a Public Health Obesity Act that includes restrictions on promotion and advertising, the introduction of No Fry Zones and various initiatives promoting active travel that can help transform a toxic environment that is making sedentary lifestyles inevitable.”

Mr Macey added that there was strong public support for many important measures to tackle obesity according to polls carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation by Ipsos MRBI, including:

  • 75% support for a ban on price promotions encouraging people to choose larger sizes or multiple amounts of unhealthy food and drinks;
  • 74% support for removing sweets and other unhealthy products from end of aisles and checkouts in supermarkets;
  • 71% support a ban on the marketing and promotion of unhealthy food and drinks to under 18s.
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