Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots launches 10-year obesity strategy for NI

Body fat being measured using callipers
Image caption Almost a quarter of adults in Northern Ireland are obese

Obesity can cut a person's life expectancy by nine years.

That is the stark message from Health Minister Edwin Poots as he launched a 10-year strategy to tackle the problem on Friday.

Last year, about 1,000 people were diagnosed as being obese in Northern Ireland.

"It is my intention to invest more than £7m towards tackling the problem of obesity over the next three years," said Mr Poots.

"In Northern Ireland 59% of adults are either overweight (36%) or obese (23%).

"Another worrying statistic is that 8% of children aged 2-15 years were assessed as being obese.

"These figures demonstrate the scale of the problem and the enormous challenge we are facing."

Image caption The Health Minister Edwin Poots and Public Health Agency Chief Executive Eddie Rooney want to encourage healthy eating and exercise

Those working in the health service and in education will be hoping this latest plan will identify key areas and funding which will help communities address the growing number of people who are putting on weight.

Several months ago, a leading doctor in the Northern Health Trust told the BBC that the local health service is bracing itself for a tsunami of obesity-related diseases, which the economy cannot afford to treat.

It is a stark warning for both the public and the Department of Health whose job it is to tackle the problem.

Obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke, conditions which not only cost lives but also the economy hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Department of Health is hoping that by encouraging people to lead healthier lives, in terms of both what they eat and the exercise they take, they will do less damage to their bodies.

In 2003, health officials talked about an "obesity time bomb" among children.

Ten years on, it is hoped this latest publication will make a difference sooner rather than later.

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