I contacted the Minister for Health recently and asked the following question:-

“Dear Stephen,

I’m conscious from your recent comments that you are convinced that there will be a second spike in Covid-19 at some point. This suggests to me that we will need to take appropriate measures in advance of this outcome. High on the action list must be measures to reduce obesity given that this is one area which is directly connected with Covid-19 mortality and morbidity, but also because it is possible to reduce obesity via active policy measures.

I’m conscious that the UK government is now taking measures to address obesity, some of which are market intervention measures designed to to reduce sugar, fat and salt intake. I’m attaching an editorial from today’s FT on the subject.

I’m wondering what incremental plans, if any, the government has in mind at this moment to intervene? I’m sure you will agree that it would be prudent from a public health perspective to effect change given the prevailing levels of obesity in Ireland, and disproportionately so among those from lower socioeconomic position.”

You will see the response below from the Minister. It doesn’t appear at this point in time that there will be any incremental government actions taken in order to intervene in relation to Covid-19. But the following is clear:

  • The Minister is committed to refining and implementing policy in this area as a matter of priority;
  • He recognises the ‘social’ gradient’ and health inequalities in obesity whereby the lives of people in lower socioeconomic position (SEP) are impacted disproportionately by its incidence;
  • He highlights childhood obesity which, as evidenced by the recent ‘Growing up in Ireland’ report from the ESRI, which is a matter of grave concern, particularly among SEP families.

I am encouraged by the response and I look forward to continuing positive progress from the government on this critical issue.

Statement from the Minister for Health on Obesity Policy and Covid-19 (Friday 21st August, 2020)

“Dear Mr Conlon,

Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning obesity and COVID-19. Obesity is a priority area for the new Government, as reflected in the Programme for Government “Our Shared Future”, and is certainly a priority of mine as Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy.

The Obesity Policy and Action Plan recognises that obesity is a complex, multi-faceted problem and needs a multi-pronged solution, with every sector of society playing its part, and is not an issue that is amenable to short-term solutions. Childhood obesity is a key priority under the Policy, as is reducing the inequalities seen in obesity rates to which you have referred. Evidence-based actions are being progressed under the Plan on a number of fronts, including the preparation of Healthy Eating Guidelines for 1 to 5 year-olds, and the finalisation of a Roadmap in relation to the reformulation of unhealthy food and drink. Both of these measures are expected to be introduced in the autumn.

In addition, work is underway for a meeting of the Obesity Policy Implementation Oversight Group to be held in the near future, to look at the policy context, including that of the COVID-19 crisis and the increased risk of a more severe form of the disease that has been associated with obesity, and to prepare to take this work forward in the months to come.  

Yours sincerely,”

Stephen Donnelly, TD

Minister for Health