A conference hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) will hear today (Tuesday, 13 October 2015) that the stigma associated with attending childhood obesity treatment programmes needs to be tackled to improve uptake of such programmes.
The conference will also hear that three-quarters of post-primary schools have one or more fast food outlets within one kilometre of them
The IPH's fourth annual Open Conference in Dublin's Croke Park Conference Centre will be opened by Tony O'Brien, Director General of the Health Service Executive. Twenty four papers are being presented at the conference on a range of public health issues such as:
- Income inequalities and health - closing the gap;
- Research and evidence strengthening policy and practice;
- Excellence in leadership in public health;
- Influencing the teenage years - impact for life.
Owen Metcalfe, IPH CEO, said: "Today's conference highlights how effective public health interventions can make significant positive difference to the lives of individuals and to the type of society we live in. It provides an important all-island forum to showcase public health research and opportunities for key players including practitioners, policy makers and the community and voluntary sector to exchange ideas that can help create a healthier population."
Childhood obesity is one of the topics at the conference and Emily Kelleher, University College Cork, says that strategies to boost recruitment and minimise dropout are required to improve the outcomes of child obesity treatment programmes.
"Evidence suggests that programmes that are family-based and combine healthy eating, physical activity and behavioural components are effective in treating childhood obesity. However, success relies heavily on ongoing family attendance. Unfortunately, the majority of families referred to such treatment decline and many who do agree to attend subsequently drop out. Such non-attendance impacts negatively on the children and their families as well as on the health service due to missed appointments."
A systematic review of existing research on the issue by Emily Kelleher shows that children agreed to enrol in obesity treatment programmes primarily to have fun and make friends. Others engaged with the expectation of improving their weight and appearance.
"However, the stigma associated with attending these programmes discouraged many other children from attending. To counteract the stigma that leads to non-participation and drop-out, childhood obesity programme marketing materials should be bright and fun, highlighting the positive benefits to the children as well as the opportunity to learn new skills and take part in interesting activities."
As well as making the treatment programmes more attractive, Emily Kelleher says that the research shows that providers need to ensure that programmes are delivered in familiar and accessible locations and in doing so, normalising the issue. In addition, before treatment commences, possible barriers to participation should be discussed and resolved with the parents and their children.
Continuing on the theme of young people's relationship with food, NUI Galway's Dr Colette Kelly mapped the food environment in which the schools taking part in the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HSBC) study were located. Results include:
- Three-quarters of post-primary schools had one or more fast food restaurant within one kilometer of them;
- Nearly one third - 29.7% - had five or more fast food outlets within one kilometre from the school;
- Boys' schools - and those in urban areas - had a greater proportion of food outlets nearby than girls' and rural schools.
Dr Kelly says that given the prevalence of obesity amongst our young people and the relationship between it and the proximity of various food outlets to where they live and study, we need to have a public debate on how we move forward on this issue. Dr Kelly poses questions about planning regulations, school policies and the role of food outlets in helping to promote healthier eating among schoolchildren.