Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Obesity link to 450 deaths a year

Image of overweight couple
A conference aimed at tackling obesity is being held in Belfast

Obesity causes an estimated 450 deaths a year in Northern Ireland, a health chief has said.

Leading obesity experts will be at Belfast's Europa Hotel on Thursday to discuss ways of tackling the problem.

Health Promotion Agency chief executive, Dr Brian Gaffney, said that obesity costs the economy about 500m.

"Being overweight or obese increases the risk of health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers," he said.

He added that it also had a "major impact on education, employment and mental and emotional health".

The conference, 'Obesity: weighing up the evidence', has been organised by the HPA in Northern Ireland and the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, 59% of adults and 26% of children are overweight or obese. In the Republic 50% of adults are overweight or obese as well as 23% of boys and 28% of girls.

The World Health Organisation reports that obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the age and that it has reached "epidemic proportions worldwide".

In New Zealand, however, the rate of increase is beginning to slow down following government action.

Victoria Evans, senior communications advisor at the Ministry of Health in New Zealand, is attending the conference.

She said in response to the country's obesity epidemic, the government developed a strategy with the key goals of improving nutrition, increasing physical activity and reducing obesity.

"New Zealand has managed to slow the rate of increase of obesity since 2002, but more work is still needed before obesity rates begin to decline," she said.

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