The problem of obesity is the number one social and health burden facing the developed world, according to Professor Donal O’Shea, Chairperson of the Irish Heart Foundation Nutrition Council.

Professor O'Shea, who also runs the weight management clinic at Loughlinstown, was speaking during an Oireachtas Committee meeting on health and said the time bomb has exploded, and he is working at the bombsite.

“The time given to evaluating the problem in Ireland has to finish, and it is time to implement a strategy that should focus on children and adolescents,” he said.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 deaths a year in this country relate to diseases associated with overweight or obesity. In comparison, Mr O’Shea said, 400 or 500 deaths are by suicide, which has prevention strategies in place to deal with it.

“25% of our 3 year olds are overweight or obese; 60% of our female population and 70% of males are overweight or obese; that is up from 8% or 9%, 40 years ago; population obesity has doubled over last 30 years, and BMI of 50 has gone up 10 fold.”

He also said there is a need to incentivise healthier food, and policy makers need to influence the various Government Departments involved, adding that there is strong evidence that fiscal measures will make a difference, and this needs to be looked at.

Professor Niall Moynan of DCU said that children are eating more calories than expending, but also physical activity levels are decreasing.

Professor Moynan added that with technological advancement we are engineering activity out of our lives, and children are living an increasingly sedentary life.

Teenagers are recommended to do 60 minutes of moderate activity every day. However, he said 65% of Irish teenagers do not meet this requirement.

Professor Moynan said our physical education in schools has failed us, and it should be focused on health and wellbeing, and that sport and activity should be only one part.

He added that in a study carried out in DCU, on 5,000 15- to 17-year-olds, showed that 22% of Irish teenagers of that age are clinically overweight or obese.

Professor Mark Hanson, of the University of Southampton, gave a detailed presentation of a study carried out there, which showed how risk of obesity passed from generation from generation; and how poorly educated couples are more likely to be obese or overweight.