Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
86. Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to more effectively promote fresh vegetables and potatoes as part of a healthy diet for young people particularly in view of the heavy advertising aimed at children by manufacturers of high sugar, salt and fat food products. [24632/06]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): I am very aware of the need to promote sensible and healthy eating habits among our young people. Not alone do health, diet and nutrition impact on societal well-being, mental health and life expectancy, it pervades into every area of our economy, from lost work days to increased healthcare costs. The case for targeting the dietary habits of young people in their formative years is compelling. That is why I have introduced a range of measures in the area of research and in the area of promotion, all of which recognise the need for a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach.
Under the FIRM programme my Department funds public good research by the food research institutions. The 2006 call for proposals included a Food and Health theme. The proposals submitted included multi-annual projects on reducing the salt content of certain foods. Following external evaluation I anticipate that up to €2 million will be approved in this area. Projects previously funded include research into developing gluten free bread and reduced fat cheese toppings.
The Scientific Study on Children’s Diet, which was co-funded by my Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), was the first study to benchmark dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish children. The work was carried out by researchers in Trinity College, Dublin and University College, Cork who surveyed 600 children aged 5-12 years from primary schools throughout Ireland during 2003 and 2004. The researchers collected information on diet, physical activity and body measurements on each child in addition to lifestyle information for both the children and their parents.
In relation to diet, the study identified that intake of fruit and vegetables was low and on average well below international recommendations. Fat and salt intakes were higher than recommended while overweight and obesity in 5-12 year old schoolchildren was relatively high and increasing.
I considered it important that the data on diet and physical exercise collected in the study should be further analysed and cross-referenced with other available information to assist in evidence-based policy formulation and implementation, and to provide the public and the food industry with useful information in this area. This research, jointly funded by DAF and FSAI, commenced earlier this year and I am confident the results will assist the food industry to tailor product development and promotion to lifestyle patterns and trends based on the scientific data gathered. The research will also be of valuable assistance in formulating new products to meet emerging nutritional demands.
As part of a twin track approach, my Department has also focused on the promotion of fresh fruit and vegetables. The Food Dude Programme, which was launched last year, aims to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables by primary school children at school and in the home. The Programme, jointly funded by the EU Commission, my Department and the trade, is managed by An Bord Bia, and will be run in 150 primary schools over 3 years. It was developed by the University of Wales, Bangor and studies show that it can deliver long-lasting results across the primary school age range in terms of improving dietary habits and creating a healthy eating culture. Evidence to date indicates that the programme has been hugely successful in its inaugural year.
In addition, a 3-year advertising, PR and promotion campaign aimed at increasing the consumption of mushrooms by young households and young people has recently concluded. This programme was again a collaborative approach involving the EU Commission, my Department and the mushroom industry, through Bord Bia. In 2005, the advertising campaign achieved population coverage of 1.2 million people and, in general, has led to increased spend on mushrooms in retail outlets.
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