SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has urged Health Minister Robin Swann to use money raised from the sugar tax to help fight the North’s obesity epidemic.
The latest figures show that over a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are classed as overweight or obese, with nearly two-thirds of adults falling into the same two categories.
Mr Durkan said funding from the Soft Drinks Industry Level (SDIL) should be ring fenced to tackle a range of health issues, including obesity, diabetes and poor oral health.
Prior to the restoration of the Assembly, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly was unable to progress the issue in the absence of ministerial sign-off.
Mr Durkan has been pushing for sugar tax funding to be used to tackle related health issues for a number of years.
Health Minister Robin Swann has written to Mr Durkan saying his department would give consideration to his proposal as part of their Obesity Strategy.
The Foyle MLA said:
“The costs associated with treating obesity, diabetes and poor oral health throughout the North are increasing year on year. It’s clear that these are growing concerns, affecting swathes of the population - recent estimations suggest that over a quarter of people here are obese. The ring-fencing of funds from the sugar tax to tackle these conditions has been implemented elsewhere on these islands yet has been stalled here due to the kind of dithering and non-delivery that permeates our politics.
“When it comes to health, prevention is not only better, but often easier and cheaper than cure. We should use this money in a targeted way to reduce our current issues around obesity and Type 2 diabetes and help people already suffering from poor health as a result of these conditions.
“My attempts to progress these plans in the past have unfortunately fallen on deaf ears. I raised it with Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly and believe agreement had been reached for £14m funding from the British Government to tackle these issues, unfortunately like many important projects during the absence of government here as a result of Sinn Féin-DUP infighting it was unable to get ministerial sign-off. I am buoyed by Minister Swann’s response to my request, these proposals have the potential to really benefit people here and transform lives in the long-term. If we can help people improve their health and stop other people going down the same road, we can lessen the pressure on our health service while improving the quality of life for our people.”