New campaign launched to tackle Newry, Mourne and Down’s food environment

Pictured launching the campaign is Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition at safefood and Olivia Gough, a local mum of two children.Pictured launching the campaign is Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition at safefood and Olivia Gough, a local mum of two children.
Pictured launching the campaign is Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition at safefood and Olivia Gough, a local mum of two children.
Children in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council can identify unhealthy food brands before they can say their ABCs, says Safefood, as they launch a new public health campaign to tackle overweight and obesity and protect children’s health.

Safefood - the public body responsible for the promotion of food safety and healthy eating – is spearheading a five-year campaign aimed at tackling Northern Ireland’s food environment that’s bombarding children with unhealthy foods.

With 63% of pre-school children in Northern Ireland able to identify unhealthy food brands before they can read and write, one in four children in Northern Ireland are currently living with either overweight or obesity.

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Food-related ill-health is the leading cause of preventable illness in the developed world, and children living with overweight or obesity are at a significantly increased risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers in adulthood.

The psychological and social toll on children due to weight stigmatisation can be profound, while, economically, the estimated lifetime cost of childhood overweight and obesity to the Northern Ireland economy was measured at £2.1 billion or £18,797 per person.

The campaign will seek to rally Northern Ireland public opinion to confront the harsh reality of our unhealthy food environment and demand immediate action to safeguard our children's future.

It will spotlight the urgent need to transform our food landscape, tackling the overwhelming variety and availability of unhealthy options head-on. It will also highlight the marketing tactics that promote high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt foods in in children’s everyday lives.

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As part of the campaign, Safefood will lead a Food Environment Forum which will comprise the lead health agencies involved in the policy and partnership work in this area and will steer a roadmap for the next five years. It is anticipated that the demand for change created by the campaign will help advance this work and expedite the changes needed to build a healthier food environment.

Launching the campaign, Dr. Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with Safefood, says, "This new public health campaign aims to protect the health and wellbeing of children by firstly prompting us all to think and talk about our food environment.

“Children see about 1,000 ads for unhealthy foods every year, and before they know their ABCs, young children can identify these brands. “If we stop and look around at our environment, we see how much unhealthy food and drink surrounds us.

“Our new TV ad shows how overwhelming this is from a child's eye view. We're bombarded with advertising and never-ending price promotions for foods high in fat, sugar, or salt, and fizzy drinks. It’s there when paying for petrol or buying a tin of paint. Expecting any of us to make healthier choices is nearly impossible when faced with this relentless sales push.

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“We're at an important moment in time, recognising how our food environment harms our health and our children's health. We must ask ourselves – is this what we want? What would a better food environment look like? For too long, we've let others decide. We all need to start the conversation about what a better food environment could be and build momentum for change.”

Northern Ireland’s food environment has undergone a dramatic shift, inundating people with unhealthy food choices. Fast food outlets dominate the high streets of local towns and cities, sugary snacks and drinks are prominently placed in convenience store checkout lines, and the public are targeted with advertising for high-fat, high-salt foods on smartphones and tablets.

A 2024 Safefood survey further highlights the pervasive marketing of unhealthy foods. It showed that 82% of adults encounter special offers for unhealthy foods in local shops, while 71% see these foods being sold in non-food locations such as bookshops and leisure centres.

Dr Gary A. Kearney, Chief Executive, Safefood says: “This initiative marks a shift in public health campaigning in Northern Ireland and for the first time focuses on our potentially harmful food environment and why we need a healthier one. It is a move away from personal responsibility towards a broader societal response.

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“For many years, many public health bodies have been encouraging people to eat healthily, but it is virtually impossible to do so within an environment that doesn’t support this. It is very difficult to make healthy food choices when faced with constant advertising and marketing, and the availability of cheap, unhealthy foods at every turn. Rates of overweight and obesity remain high, and a different and inclusive approach is now required for society.

“This campaign will be a key initiative for Safefood, working with our partners in public health in Northern Ireland. Over the next five years we will draw upon the latest and emerging research in this area and work with our many partners with a view to building a healthier food environment and protect our children’s health.”

The new campaign was developed by Safefood in partnership with the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and the Food Standards Agency.

For more information on the campaign visit www.safefood.net/talk-about-food or follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #TalkAboutFood.

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