7.4 Healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition
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Encouraging healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition for young people
Health education and healthy lifestyles education in schools
Peer-to-peer education approaches
Collaboration and partnerships
Raising awareness on healthy lifestyles and on factors affecting the health and well-being of young people
National Youth Strategy 2015-2020
Ireland’s first-ever youth strategy, the National Youth Strategy 2015-2020, was launched in 2015 by the Minister for Children, Education, Disability, Integration and Youth. It aims to enable all young people to realise their maximum potential, by respecting their rights and hearing their voices, while protecting and supporting them as they transition from childhood to adulthood. The Youth Strategy identifies more than 50 priority actions over the 2015–2017 period. Its health-related commitments include:
- Developing a National Obesity Policy and Action Plan which will focus on prevention, treatment, and research, and will include consultation to ensure that young people’s views are heard.
- Involving young people in the development and management of drug and alcohol-free venues and programmes for young people (e.g. youth cafés, alcohol-free music and dance venues, and sports venues), with an emphasis on those most at risk.
- Children and young people will be consulted by services seeking to respond to parental substance misuse or substance misuse in families as targeted by the ‘Hidden Harm’ initiative.
The Strategy’s implementation is the shared responsibility of Government, State agencies and other stakeholders who are involved in developing policy and providing services. This implementation is led by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Progress on implementation of the National Youth Strategy is included in the annual report for Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020.
There has been no National Youth Strategy implemented for the 2021 period as of January 2022.
Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025
A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025 aims to increase the number of people with a healthy weight and make a healthy weight becomes the norm. The Policy also aims to remove the stigma associated with obesity, especially in children. It sets short-term (five-year) targets for overweight and obesity:
- a sustained downward trend (averaging 0.5% per annum as measured by the Healthy Ireland Survey) in the level of excess weight averaged across all adults
- a sustained downward trend (averaging 0.5% per annum as measured by Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative) in the level of excess weight in children
- a reduction in the gap in obesity levels between the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups by 10%, as measured by the Healthy Ireland and Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative surveys.
Progress on achieving the targets is to be reviewed every two years during the Policy’s ten-year lifespan. The need to revise targets will be considered in the context of contemporary prevalence data, ongoing modelling exercises and the impact of specific policies and interventions.
A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025
A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025, aims to achieve an island where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential, where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society and is everyone’s responsibility. While the framework does not specifically target any section of the population, it does include references specific to youth and sub-sections of youth throughout. It has three dominant themes: equality, wellbeing, and empowerment. The Cabinet Committee on Social Policy oversees the framework’s delivery. The Health and Wellbeing Programme in the Department of Health has responsibility for strategic planning and co-ordination of the implementation of the framework actions. Regional specific implementation plans have also been devised for differing time periods. A Healthy Ireland research plan will be developed to build the knowledge base and ensure that the highest quality and most up-to-date data, scientific knowledge and evaluation tools are available to support the implementation and monitoring of the framework’s actions and guide the development of new policies into the future.
The Healthy Eating and Active Living Policy Priority Programme was established in late 2016 by the HSE to mobilise the health services to improve health and wellbeing. It aims to do so by increasing the levels of physical activity, healthy diet and healthier weight across services users, staff and the population as a whole, with a focus on families and children. The National Policy Priority Programme Team work to co-ordinate and lead activity across the health services to ensure implementation of two policies:
- A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025
- Get Ireland Active! The National Physical Activity Plan for Ireland 2016
- The Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme National Implementation Plan 2017-2020 (HSE, and Healthy Ireland, 2017) sets out the strategic priorities and actions for the next three years. The Programme will work with the Community Healthcare Organisations, Hospital Groups and funded agencies to deliver priority actions.
National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 - 2020 and Action Plan 2015 - 2016
In 2015, Healthy Ireland and Department of Health released the National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 - 2020 and Action Plan. The action plan sets out the main actions which were to be taken in 2015 and 2016 to commence the implementation of the National Sexual Health Strategy for Ireland 2015 – 2020. The National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 – 2020 is a strategic framework for the sexual health and wellbeing of the Irish population and was launched in October 2015. While Ireland had previously developed regional sexual health strategies and national strategies to address specific sexual health issues, the National Sexual Health Strategy is the first time a coordinated approach has been developed at national level to address sexual health and wellbeing and to reduce negative sexual health outcomes. It targets ‘at risk’ groups for specific interventions. The ambition behind the strategy is that everyone in Ireland experiences positive sexual health and wellbeing, and has access to high quality sexual health information, education, and services. It takes a life course approach to sexual health which acknowledges the importance of developing healthy sexuality throughout childhood and adolescence and builds on that foundation for positive sexual health and wellbeing into adulthood and older age. The three key goals of the strategy are:
- to ensure that everyone has access to appropriate sexual health education and information
- to ensure that high quality sexual health services are available and affordable
- to ensure that good quality data is available to guide the service.
The Strategy is implemented under the Healthy Ireland Framework. The Health and Wellbeing Division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), supported by government departments, statutory and non-statutory bodies, professional bodies and NGOs, will lead the Strategy’s implementation through the appointment of two posts – a National Clinical Lead and a National Programme Lead – and the establishment of a HSE implementation group with service user and non-statutory service provider representation. Coordination is required both within and between the three key identified areas: promotion, education, and prevention; services; and health intelligence.
Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020
Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: The National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, 2014-2020 aims to ensure that children and young people are active and healthy. Outcome one, ‘Active and Healthy’, of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures aims for all children and young people to be physically healthy and able to make positive health choices, have good mental health and have a positive and respectful approach to relationships and sexual health.
Report on Tackling Childhood Obesity
The Joint committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth released a Report on Tackling Childhood Obesity (2018). Its 20 recommendations include:
- Whole system approach – suitable to implement all policies relating to tackling childhood obesity
- Socio-economic inequalities – setting clear targets to reduce inequalities and consider further targeted interventions for those of lower socio- status
- Sport and physical activity – promotion of sport for children through public programmes and encouraging local sporting bodies to work with schools in communities to encourage children to find a sport they enjoy economic
- School environment – banning junk and fast-food outlets in school and its perimeter, normalising drinking water and making Home Economics compulsory in Junior cycle curriculum. Along with ensuring the physical activity facilities in schools are satisfactory
- Marketing and advertising – creation of a nutrient profile and introducing further statutory code and monitoring of the marketing of food and beverages to children on broadcast and non-broadcast media
- Early years interventions – increasing provisions to support breastfeeding in Ireland
- Further research – investigate potential links between obesity, mental health and portrayal of body image on social and traditional media to allow measures to be implemented to protect children
The Joint Committee recommended that the Government take a whole system approach in relation to the implementation of all policies related to tackling childhood obesity.
The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the Republic of Ireland
In 2018, the Department of Health gathered data and released a survey surrounding obesity and children in Ireland. It found that 1 in 5 primary school children are overweight or obese, with obesity being more prevalent in girls and in disadvantaged schools. Most schools are free from food and drink advertisement with sugar-sweetened beverages unavailable at most schools. 100% of schools who participated in this survey do not have a vending machine present on the school grounds.
Encouraging healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition for young people
UBU - Your Place, Your Space
In December 2020, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth launched UBU - Your Place, Your Space. The scheme aims to help to deliver the National Drugs Strategy’s goal of improving services for young people at risk of substance misuse in socially and economically disadvantaged communities. The primary target group are 10- to 24-year-olds who are described in the National Youth Strategy as marginalised, disadvantaged, or vulnerable. Further details are available in Chapter 4.7.
National Youth Health Programme
The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) National Youth Health Programme (NYHP) is a partnership between the NYCI, the HSE and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. NYHP is discussed further in Chapter 7.2.
The NYCI produced Promoting Health in the Youth Sector: A Practical Manual in 2013. It aims to introduce those working with young people, in the youth sector, to good practice in health promotion. NYCI, in partnership with the National University of Ireland, Galway, have also developed a Specialist Certificate in Youth Health Promotion course. It is a Level 7 course on the National Qualification Framework (Level 6 on the European Qualification Framework). The certificate targets those working in the youth sector and aims to help learners to gain the skills to encourage, support and facilitate youth organisations to become effective settings for health.
Foundation Programme in Sexual Health Promotion
The HSE Health Promotion and Improvement Departments nationally facilitates a 10-day Foundation Programme in Sexual Health Promotion. It is a comprehensive foundation training programme for professional and voluntary service providers who wish to develop their confidence, skills, and knowledge in sexual health promotion. There is no participant fee. It is funded by the Health Promotion and Improvement Department in partnership with the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme.
REAL U programme
Foróige’s REAL U programme (Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered) was developed to enhance Foróige’s service delivery to young people in relation to their sexual health. It is a high quality, comprehensive programme designed to be used in the non-formal learning environment. It is aimed at young people aged 12-18 years in a groupwork setting. Foróige worked closely with The Rape Crisis Network Ireland, The Marie Keating Foundation and the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme and BeLonG To in developing this manual. It aims to equip young people with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to develop healthy relationships, make responsible decisions in relation to their sexual health and ultimately delay the onset of early sexual activity.
Leave It Till Later Training Course
Leave It Till Later Training Course explores the concept of delaying early sex among young people, including causes and effects of early sex, the influence of the media and peer pressure, and helping young people to build healthy relationships and make positive decisions for them. This course is offered by NYCI in conjunction with the Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme’s b4uDecide campaign.
Be Healthy, Be Happy programme
The Be Healthy, Be Happy programme was developed in relation to the needs of today’s adolescents by Foróige, in consultation with staff, volunteers and young people. It aims to enable young people to take charge of their health and well-being to enhance the quality of their lives by developing strengths and assets in areas of physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. The programme consists of 2 modules, each containing over 14 hours of facilitated content to achieve specified learning outcomes. Issues, such as stress, bullying, alcohol/drug use and depression are dealt in a way that enhances the young people’s capacity to cope with challenges as they emerge and aims to build their resilience and social support network in a real and tangible way. The programme targets 12- to 18-year-olds and can be used in all youth work settings, volunteer-led clubs, youth projects or schools.
Healthy Education and Healthy Lifestyle Education in Schools
The Education Act, 1998 emphasises that schools should promote the social and personal development of students and provide health education for them.
The Department of Educations’ Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice 2018–2023 was published in 2018 and revised in 2019. The policy statement and framework provide an overarching structure encompassing existing, ongoing, and developing work in the area of Well-being Promotion in schools. It sets out to ensure, that by 2023:
- the promotion of wellbeing will be at the core of the ethos of every school and centre for education
- all schools and centres for education will provide evidence-informed approaches and support, appropriate to need, to enhance the wellbeing of all
- Ireland will be recognised as a leader in wellbeing promotion in schools and centres for education.
The Health Promotion Strategic Framework identifies education as one of the key settings for health promotion. It advocates the implementation of a nationally agreed framework for Health Promoting Schools at both primary and post-primary levels. Schools for Health in Ireland: Framework for Developing a Health Promoting School, Post-Primary , offers a framework to schools against which they can look at their school, assess health needs and begin a process of working towards better health for all members of the school community. Schools for Health in Ireland: Co-ordinator’s Handbook for Developing a Health Promoting School, Post-Primary was developed to assist schools with the implementation of this framework. The framework was developed by the HSE with input from the Department of Education, and is intended to support and guide the implementation of Health Promoting Schools at post-primary level.
Some schools provide Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in Transition Year (an optional year between the junior and senior cycles) and to a lesser extent, in the Leaving Certificate (established) (the non-vocational state examination curriculum).
There are many professional learning opportunities available to support teachers and school leaders to engage with aspects of wellbeing. These include supports provided by the Department of Education’ Support Services and the HSE’s Health Promotion Team to assist the promotion of wellbeing across school communities.
The Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Programme in schools aims to provide opportunities for children and young people to learn about relationships and sexuality in ways that help them think and act in a moral, caring and responsible way. Section 4 of the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools requires schools to have an agreed policy for RSE and a suitable RSE programme in place for all students at both junior and senior cycle. It is the responsibility of the board of management to ensure that an RSE programme is made available to all students. Resource materials to support the teaching of RSE in the Senior Cycle are available on the SPHE website (social, personal and health education). According to the HSE’s website B4UDecide.ie, although RSE is a mandatory programme, it is not taught in all schools, or in all classes in all schools.
Home Economics, an optional subject for the Leaving Certificate (established), covers topics including Food science and nutrition; Diet and health; and Preparation and processing of food. The Biology curriculum, another optional Leaving Certificate (established) subject, includes nutrition.
Social Education is a mandatory part of the Leaving Certificate Applied (vocational state examination). It covers topics including nutrition, exercise, rest, sleep, meeting psychological need for belonging, self-esteem, relations, sexual health, the effects of drug and alcohol misuse, etc. In-service training is provided specifically for the Leaving Certificate Applied Social Education course.
BeLonG To Youth Services is the national organisation supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) young people in Ireland. They advocate and campaign on behalf of young LGBTI+ people and offer a specialised LGBTI+ youth service with a focus on mental and sexual health, alongside drug and alcohol support. Belong To also runs training courses for teachers including LGBT Awareness Training and LGBT young people and drug use. BeLong To receives statutory funding alongside donations.
Peer-to-peer education approaches
SpunOut.ie is an Irish youth information website created by young people, for young people. It provides information to more than 180,000 active readers each month. Established in 2005, its vision is to help create an Ireland where 16- to 25-year-olds are empowered with the information they need to live active, happy, and healthy lives. SpunOut.ie aims to educate and inform its readers about the importance of holistic wellbeing and how good health can be maintained, both physically and mentally. The website provides resources on health and wellbeing related topics, including:
- General health
- Healthy Eating
- Mental Health
- Sexual Health
- Sexually transmitted infections.
SpunOut.ie’s editorial team writes all of their professionally proofed factsheets and consult with relevant subject matter experts and young people. It also publishes articles written by readers aged 16 to 25 in the website’s Opinion section. SpunOut.ie is funded by the Health Service Executive; the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Google; and the Innovate Together fund.
Bodywhys is national voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders. It aims to ensure support, awareness and understanding of eating disorders amongst the wider community as well as advocating for the rights and healthcare needs of people affected by eating disorders. Bodywhys’ Youth Panel is made up of young people aged 13-25 who meet with the Bodywhys Youth Development Officer on a regular basis to represent the views of young people. Their activities include:
- Helping to spread the ‘Be Body Positive’ message and ideas for how to do so
- Thinking up new ideas for services for young people
- Helping to develop a Youth Version of our website
- Developing a ‘Be Body Positive’ programme for schools
- Helping to design/develop leaflets and other stuff for young people
- Being a Bodywhys representative at events
- Substance Use Peer Education Responses (SUPER) programme
Youth Work Ireland’s (previously known as the National Youth Federation) Substance Use Peer Education Responses (SUPER) programme aims to transfer knowledge, skills and competencies through a structured training programme to youth work staff and volunteers wishing to develop initiatives with young people. It aims to support trainees to become key agents of change by supporting peer-led approaches to drug issues in local communities. Its approach is set out in The Substance Use Peer Education Responses Manual: a Resource for Developing Peer Led Approaches to Drugs Education.
Promoting Health in the Youth Sector: A Practical Manual lists a range of different approaches to health education, including peer education. It specifies that peer education “Involves young people working with others of the same age group or younger under supervision of workers. Extensive training and support is required to enable young people to act as peer educators”
National Peer-Led Life Skills Programme
The National Peer-Led Life Skills Programme was developed by EPIC (Empowering People in Care), in collaboration with professionals from relevant services: Mental Health, Homelessness, Probation, University Access Programme and Alternative Care. The programme began in 2016 and was updated in 2017. It aims to ensure that young people leaving care are equipped with the lifelong skills to live independently. The life skills programme containing five modules that are designed and delivered by adults who have care experience, targeting youths aged 17 years or older who are leaving state care. The topics covered in the five modules are:
- Mental Health,
- Drug and Alcohol Addiction,
- Healthy Relationships,
- Budgeting (which includes distributing a booklet containing easy and cost-efficient recipes).
EPIC receives funding from the Child and Family Agency (Tulsa), charity donations and fundraising. The Ulster Bank Skills & Opportunities Fund also helped to fund the National Peer-Led Life Skills Programme.
Collaboration and partnerships
A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025, states that “emphasis and priority [is] being placed on partnership and cross-sectoral involvement”. The framework sets out that:
The Health and Wellbeing Programme in the Department of Health will co-ordinate the development of models and supports to promote and foster advocates for health and wellbeing in all sectors of society and develop key partnerships with voluntary and other organisations, which can favourably influence health and wellbeing.
The SPHE (social, personal and health education) Inter-Departmental Partnership is a formal agreement between the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Department of Health and the HSE to support the delivery of SPHE in schools.
The HSE works in partnership with the Department of Education on the implementation of their Wellbeing Policy and Framework for Practice. The HSE plan to unveil a new website with information on the training and resources provided by its Schools Team.
The National Youth Health Programme is a partnership between the National Youth Council of Ireland, the HSE and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. It is described in further detail in Chapter 7.2.
NYCI and the Irish Heart Foundation produced a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) resource to tackle the escalating problems of poor nutrition and declining levels of physical activity amongst Irish teenagers. The aim of HEAL is to equip those working with children and young people with the skills necessary to promote healthier living among these age groups by providing guidance on health education, good eating, active living, and health policies.
Raising awareness on healthy lifestyles and on factors affecting the health and well-being of young people
Wellbeing promotion is a government priority as set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government and this is reflected through a range of strategies and cross-departmental groups.
Healthy Ireland campaign
The 2019 Healthy Ireland campaign aims to raise awareness of Healthy Ireland. Healthy Ireland is a Government-led initiative which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people living here. More information about Healthy Ireland is in Chapter 7.2.
SpunOut.ie launched a promotional campaign called Simple Changes in 2019. The campaign aims to help youths to find ways to introduce small changes to your life that can help to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. The campaign included information and guidance articles on subjects such as healthy eating, exercise, and mental wellbeing.
Health Quality Mark
NYCI (discussed further in Chapter 7.2) developed the Health Quality Mark (HQ Mark) as a health promotion initiative with a view to enhancing best practice and a high standard of quality in all aspects of health promotion in youth organisations. The HQ Mark is a set of quality standards in youth health promotion.
safefood is an all-island implementation body set up under the British-Irish Agreement with a general remit to promote awareness and knowledge of food safety and nutrition issues on the island of Ireland. safefood in partnership with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) in the Republic of Ireland and the British Dietetic Association in Northern Ireland, have developed a booklet which provides general advice for 13- to 17-year-olds who are involved in sport. It provides information about what to eat and drink to perform at your best in sport, stay healthy and feel great.
HSE Relationship Campaign
The HSE launched a campaign in 2020 about how parents can talk to their children about relationships and growing up. It includes a list of resources and sources of support for parents or carers about talking with teenagers on these topics.
Bodywhys (described above) offers the service YouthConnect; a free, online support group for people with eating disorders aged 13-18 years. It’s website includes a specific section on Information For Young People around eating disorders. Bodywhys is supported by the HSE.