World Experts in Childhood Obesity discuss the Current Crisis at largest Conference of its kind in Ireland

Posted on: 18 September 2009

Ireland has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world. One in ten children in Ireland aged 5-12 years are obese and it is a leading risk factor of the development of heart disease and cancer in later life.

For the first time in Ireland, world experts in the field of obesity have come together for a three-day conference which opened this week on September 17th last to highlight the various aspects of this public health crisis worldwide and present recent advances in relation to the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese opened the conference titled ‘Moving Towards Health’  which takes place in the Trinity  Centre for Health Sciences at St James’s Hospital.

Commenting on the aim of the conference,  its organiser, Professor of Paediatrics,  Hilary Hoey at Trinity College Dublin and Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital  Incorporating the National Children’s Hospital, AMNCH Tallaght says: “Recent research has shown that Ireland has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world. It is well established that children who are obese are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal complications. Furthermore, children who are obese are more likely to be obese in adulthood. It can be anticipated that childhood obesity will continue to be a major political and economic issue throughout 2009 and the 19th European Childhood Obesity Conference will provide an essential platform for discussion on the latest developments in the field”.

“Given the current state of the global economy, it appears that now more than ever, it is imperative to ensure that resources are used in the most effective manner to minimise the economic impact of obesity and its treatment in the future. The rate at which Irish children are becoming obese demands an urgent response to address the devastating health problems. Obesity is preventable and the focus should be on prevention and early intervention. Intervention in childhood and adolescent obesity has been shown to be more successful than in adults.”

Over the course of the three-day conference, more than 20 international speakers are speaking on childhood obesity, including:

Dr Luis Moreno of the University of Zaragoza, Spain spoke on ‘Healthy eating Initiatives: securing food quality during a time of economic uncertainty’ and stated that “in industrialised countries, the more disadvantaged groups suffer from higher rates of obesity. The present economic crisis could adversely affect population health. Poverty may lead to the selection of low-cost diets that are energy-rich and shelf stable. The promotion of high-cost foods to low-income people without taking food costs into account is not likely to be successful”.

Professor O’ Rahilly of the Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, explored the genetic disorders which result in obesity through the disruption of hypothalamic satiety (feeling of having eaten sufficiently). He suggests that the dominant effect of genetic factors in obesity is likely to be on diet rather than physical activity. Studying the extremes will help our understanding of human functioning and may lead to possibilities for treatment.

Dr Makela-Tendera of the  Medical University of Silesia in Poland explained that: “Along with the increasing incidence of obesity in children there is a simultaneous increase in the frequency of the metabolic disturbances that were previously uncommon in the paediatric age. The metabolic syndrome is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It is diagnosed in 1-10% of normal weight and 10-67% of obese children and adolescents”. Dr Makela Tendera would argue that even in the absence of all the criteria for the metabolic syndrome children with metabolic abnormalities should be treated through lifestyle change and if necessary pharmacological intervention.

Major ongoing national and international research on obesity in childhood is being conducted by the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin including paediatrics and physiotherapy.  Trinity experts and also the conference organisers, speaking at the event included:

Dr Juliette Hussey, Head of Physiotherapy who discussed the measurement of physical activity in children. Dr Hussey also presented the results of research on the relationship between body composition, activity and fitness in children with Down Syndrome.

Professor Hilary Hoey, Head of Paediatrics and Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist at the AMNCH Tallaght discussed the importance of growth assessment and monitoring in order to prevent and detect the worldwide problem of obesity in children and adolescents and on the importance of appropriate growth reference data.
Ms Grace O’Malley physiotherapist at the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street discussed the means of increasing physical activity amongst children with special needs and children born small for their age.

The conference will conclude on Saturday, September 19th with a series of plenary sessions which will include sessions on the challenges and cost of effective intervention, prevention strategies and policy and legislation.

The conference is the 19th annual meeting of the European Childhood Obesity Group, which has been hosted in Ireland for the first time.  It has been sponsored by VHI Healthcare and the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists.

Notes to Editor:

About Childhood Obesity
In the EU 20% of children are either overweight or obese. The direct costs of obesity account for 5-7% of total healthcare expenditure (WHO, 1998).
A survey of the incidence of childhood obesity in Ireland indicates that 10% of children aged 5-12 years are obese. In 2008 19% of teenage boys were found to be overweight compared to 6% in 1990.
‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study 2009 found one in four 9-year olds overweight or obese.

Treating Childhood Obesity in Ireland
Major ongoing national and international research on obesity in childhood is being conducted by the TCD School of Medicine. The Trinity Department of Paediatrics is based in the Adelaide and Meath Hospital incorporating the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght where the major speciality is paediatric endocrinology with considerable expertise in obesity. Extensive multidisciplinary research in collaboration with the clinical services and the academic departments of TCD including physiotherapy, clinical medicine, public health and general practice, psychology, psychiatry, and with other national and international academic institutions and clinical services. This research includes genetic aspects, metabolic implications, cardiovascular risk, body composition, activity levels and exercise tolerance and Quality of Life.

The only established paediatric obesity service in Ireland is provided in the Adelaide and Meath Hospital incorporating the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght

About the  European Childhood Obesity Group
The European Childhood Obesity Group was initially formed in 1990. ECOG 2009 will be held in Ireland for the first time. The meeting will address two key areas in childhood obesity prevention: ‘Physical Activity in Childhood’ and ‘The Development of Early Eating Habits in Children’.  In addition, the most recent evidence on effective prevention and management will be presented. The conference expects to attract approximately 300 international delegates who are experts and opinion leaders in the field of obesity and its related conditions. Delegates cover a wide range of professions including, clinicians, scientists, and educators working in the field of obesity research and education, policy makers, advocacy groups, health-related organisations, governments and representatives of international bodies.