Written answers

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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335. To ask the Minister for Health if he will make a statement on support for those who are struggling with a sedentary lifestyle due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. [46554/22]

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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The Health and Well-being Programme in my Department is responsible for coordinating the implementation of Healthy Ireland, our National Framework for Improved Health and Well-being 2013-2025, and the subsequent Healthy Ireland Strategic Action Plan, 2021-25. Healthy Ireland is based on evidence and experience from around the world, which clearly shows that creating positive changes in health and well-being benefits from the involvement of the whole of Government and all of society, working together.

Supporting the wider “health in all policies” approach of Healthy Ireland, investment across multiple sectors, through Government Departments, their agencies and through wider society, contributes to broad health and well-being improvements and supports, in line with the Healthy Ireland Framework and Healthy Ireland Strategic Action Plan. A central aim of Healthy Ireland is to "create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland”.

The €15.39 million Healthy Ireland Fund budget for 2022 covers actions supporting local communities, through both the Healthy Ireland Fund and the new Sláintecare Healthy Communities Programme. The Healthy Ireland Fund provides supports at local level, through Local Community Development Committees LCDCs) and Children and Young People's Service Committees (CYPSCs) at local authority level.

The Local Strand of the Healthy Ireland Fund and the Sláintecare Healthy Communities Programme variously provide supports for projects and programmes that support health and well-being, including physical activity, diet and nutrition, positive mental health, supports for parenting, to quit smoking, and to reduce alcohol consumption with additional focus on families and young people, and supporting people and communities living with disadvantage.

The Healthy Ireland Fund also supports programmes at national level, including Age Friendly Ireland, Sport Ireland, co-funding for the Department of Education's Active School Flag programme and the Healthy Ireland at Your Library programme.

The Healthy Ireland allocation to Sport Ireland includes supports for programmes for people living with a disability, including the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme, supports for research and the Get Ireland Walking, Get Ireland Swimming, Get Ireland Running and Get Ireland Cycling programmes.

Healthy Ireland is also supporting the development and piloting of a Physical Activity Pathways in Healthcare Model in 2022, in collaboration with the HSE and Sport Ireland. These supports are funding development and co-ordination of programmes to increase access to physical activity for people who are older, frailer, living with a disability or disadvantage, and who otherwise experience more barriers to accessing physical activity, and will include elements of physical activity prescription.

Healthy Ireland also participates in the DTCAGSM Sports Leadership Group, led by the Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers, T.D., which guides the implementation of the National Sports Policy.

A review of the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) was published this year, and is available on the Healthy Ireland website. The Review contains recommendations regarding the future direction of the Plan. The provision of additional physical activity opportunities and supports to people living with a disability, chronic conditions (including mental illness), frailty and/or living with disadvantage were considered as part of the review. The NPAP Implementation Group will be considering renewing the NPAP in the coming months, bearing in mind the recommendations included in the Review, and the need to support the National Sports Policy without unnecessary overlap.

The Healthy Ireland Fund is also used to empower citizens to adopt healthier behaviours, through various citizen engagement campaigns. The Healthy Ireland campaigns have been running since 2018, initially with a focus on three themes; Eat Well, Think Well and Be Well, representing healthy eating, positive mental health and being active. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the In This Together and Be Wellcampaigns were re-purposed to provide supports for resilience, health and well-being while necessary Covid-19 restrictions were in place. The promotion of physical activity across society, in partnership with DTCAGSM and Sport Ireland, continues to be a core element of this work.

Healthy Ireland sponsored Operation Transformation in 2021 and in 2022, which featured a wide range of relevant themes, including healthy eating, physical activity and sport participation, quitting smoking, losing weight, mental health and men's and women's health. The programme reached approximately 450,000 viewers in 2021. Several settings-based initiatives are also supported, including Healthy Campuses, Workplaces and Clubs.

There is overwhelming evidence that investment in prevention is cost-effective in both the short and longer term. In addition to pre-existing evidence that tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and inactivity are key risk factors for chronic disease, there is increasing evidence that healthy behaviours provide protection against infectious disease also.

Public health advice from the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA) to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), following a wide review of published studies, concluded that “ ...in general those who are overweight or obese, who smoke, who have inadequate levels of Vitamin D, are physically inactive and consume excessive amounts of alcohol are more likely to contract COVID-19 or have poorer outcomes.”

Needless to say, it is unlikely that Covid-19 is the only infectious disease where adherence to public health guidelines regarding activity levels, weight and tobacco and alcohol misuse is protective. This is borne out by the scientific literature; for example:

- Regular physical activity can reduce the risk from upper respiratory tract infections;

- High levels of regular physical activity has been shown to result in 31% decreased risk of contracting infectious disease in the community;

- Active individuals show a 37% decrease in risk of infectious disease mortality as compared with inactive individuals;

- Regular physical activity has been shown to increase antibody levels post-vaccination, with these effects more marked in older adults.

It is clear, therefore, that national policies, such as the National Physical Activity Plan and the National Sports Policy, that seek to tackle one or more of these risk factors and to improve public health, may be even more vital in terms of protecting public health and well-being than previously realised.

In summary, investing in public health generates cost-effective health outcomes and can contribute to wider sustainability, with economic, social and environmental benefits. Healthy Ireland is a core framework for the implementation of the Sláintecare Healthy Living Pillar and provides the central platform to address the social determinants of health that impact how people live their lives.


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