One in four children in Ireland is overweight or obese, according to SafeFood.
Last February, when Weight Watchers announced its plans to offer a free weight-loss program to teenagers struggling with their weight, the internet saw red.
Parents, eating-disorder experts and body positivity activists raged on, claiming that the brand was perpetuating the obsessive diet narrative.
Now, the group is preparing themselves for further backlash as they roll out Kurbo by WW, a free nutrition and weight-loss app for kids as young as 8, and up to 17.
According to Time, Weight Watchers acquired the nutrition app Kurbo in 2018, and then spent a year developing it, adding features like breathing-exercise instructions, a food-choice ranking system and video coaching.
Presently, the app is only available in the US where nearly 20% of kids ages 2-19 qualify as obese, according to the latest government data.
However, studies suggest that adolescent weight-loss efforts can lead to or worsen disordered eating and body image issues.
Speaking on Independent.ie's the Real Health Podcast, Professor Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s Clinical Lead on Obesity, said treatment for childhood obesity is practically absent in Ireland.
This omission of treatments will inevitably create "a perfect storm of ill health" in the future, he said.
He believes that the 25% of children in Ireland who are obese showcase a pronounced social economic health divide.
“The levelling off disguises a continued rise in [obesity] in the less well off sections of society, and a fall in the better off, better-educated section of society.
“And that degree of socio-economic separation for me is a huge threat in the future for health in Ireland because you are growing a health inequality that starts at the age of three.
“The evidence is continuing to accumulate, being overweight and obese are now clearly linked to over 200 chronic medical conditions,” he said.
Just last week, researchers at Imperial College London announced that they were trialling a weight-loss injection for people struggling with symptoms of obesity.
The hormone injection, which mimics the effect of a gastric band, has proven so successful that some patients have even come off diabetes medication as a result.
According to the World Health Organisation, the prevalence of obesity has more than tripled since 1975, and in 2016, 39 per cent of adults aged 18 years and over (39 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women) were overweight globally.
Recent research has shown that obesity could soon overtake smoking as the number one cause of preventable death, with overexposure to UV through sunbathing and sun-bed use being the third.
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