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Northern Ireland Tackles Childhood Obesity Levels

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Northern Ireland Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey and Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane are backing three new publications to improve school nutrition and combat obesity.

Both Departments, the Health Promotion Agency and the Food Standards Agency are working towards the strategic objective of improving the health of children with the development of the “School Food: Top Marks Programme” which includes the following publications:

* School Food the essential guide;
* Nutritional Standards for school lunches; and
* Nutritional Standards for other food and drink in schools.

Speaking at the launch today Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said: “I welcome the publication of these new guides to help promote healthy living amongst our children. Diet is vital to health. Eating a balanced, healthy diet and understanding the importance of such a diet are both central to tackling the problem of obesity.

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“These standards will make healthier foods more accessible to school children and hopefully have an impact on their food choice which will carry on into adult life."

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane added: “Nutritional Standards have been in place in schools here since September 2007 and have been well received, especially in Primary schools. I would like to thank all of those, especially to the staff of school canteens, who have worked so hard to make the implementation of the Standards a success.

“I am aware, however, that there are competing sources of food in schools that do not comply with the Standards and which may send mixed messages to pupils. I have taken steps, therefore, to extend the Standards to all sources of food in schools, including vending machines, tuck shops, and breakfast clubs. The publications launched today set out the Standards for these other sources of food and form the core of my Food in Schools policy.

“Everything we can do to support young people in being active will help us to start addressing issues they face and help them have a healthy lifestyle. Taking part in physical activities can raise young people’s self-esteem and confidence. This is one of the reasons I introduced the curriculum sports programme. Coaches from both the GAA and the IFA work alongside teachers to help children develop physical literacy skills and support a life-long interest in sport and being active. ”

The Health Minister concluded: “There should be no doubt that healthy eating is the responsibility of the individual. As adults we can encourage our children to eat healthier and exercise more. We must ensure that as well as addressing ‘energy in’ through these publications that opportunities for ‘energy out’ through physical activity are provided in schools and elsewhere.”