Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Question 1363 – Health promotion [cancer & alcohol] [47294/23].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Question 1363 – Health promotion [cancer & alcohol] [47294/23]. (07 Nov 2023)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023...

  1. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Health if he will consider the relaunching of a public awareness campaign targeted at mitigating cancer risk, in particular the importance of education regarding exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing alcohol intake, in light of recent data which places Ireland as having the second highest rate of incidence of cancer among the 27 EU Member States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48792/23]

Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health: Successive National Cancer Strategies have delivered continuing improvements in outcomes for Irish cancer patients in terms of earlier diagnosis, better treatment, and improved rates of survival.

The current National Cancer Strategy (2017-2016) recognises four main goals, one of which is to Reduce Cancer Burden. This goal includes the following objectives:

Ensure prevention programmes are prioritised to reduce cancer incidence

Improve symptom awareness in the population

Increase early diagnosis

Focus on social inequalities

Recommendation 7 from the Strategy is that the NCCP and the HSE Health & Wellbeing Directorate, in partnership with the voluntary sector, will develop a rolling programme of targeted multi-media based public awareness and education campaigns, aimed at the early detection of specific cancers and with particular focus on at-risk populations. This recommendation is ongoing and below are some recent important developments:

  • The NCCP Early Diagnosis of Symptomatic Cancer Plan 2022-2025 was launched in May 2022 and an Early Diagnosis of Symptomatic Cancer Steering Group established.
  • The NCCP continue to work with stakeholders to design and deliver interventions to address barriers to recognising and acting on signs/symptoms of cancer including education sessions delivered to high risk and underserved groups and development of resources including ‘know the signs of cancer’ easy-read posters.
  • A National Survey of Cancer Awareness and Attitude was published in 2022 and planning commenced for similar work with specific marginalised groups, to inform targeted initiatives.
  • An Early Diagnosis of Cancer e-learning Programme for primary healthcare professionals was developed and published (HSELanD), as part of ongoing work to promote cancer awareness and early diagnosis amongst healthcare professionals.

Healthy Ireland, A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025, launched in March 2013, is the national framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the country over the coming generation. It takes a “whole of Government” and “whole of society” approach to improving health and wellbeing, which is based on international experience and thinking in addressing the broad social determinants of health.

Healthy Ireland seeks to tackle the major lifestyle issues which lead to negative health outcomes, and in particular chronic disease such as cancer. These are smoking, alcohol, poor diet, physical inactivity, and obesity. It also seeks to address the wider social and environmental factors that impact on health and wellbeing, for example, housing, education, transport, and the physical environment. The Framework aims to shift the focus to prevention, seeks to reduce health inequalities, and emphasises the need to empower people and communities to better look after their own health and wellbeing.

A series of initiatives are run by Healthy Ireland to address overweight and obesity in the adult population. Currently, a second phase of the “Healthy Weight” public awareness campaign is being run on radio and social media channels. This particular campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the heightened risk of developing overweight and obesity in our 20s and early 30s which happens due to many changes in life circumstances. This is the time for people to take action around four key pillars - physical activity, healthy eating, good sleep and managing stress - to prevent excess weight gain, and to protect their health now and in the future, which will reduce the risk of developing weight-related illnesses, including certain cancers. It also aims to provide practical information around the opportunities which exist at that stage of life to take preventative action.

Information and resources on healthy living can be found at the Healthy Ireland website at www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/3c4ed-healthy-weight/.

Health Labels

On 18 May 2023, the Minister for Health signed the Public Health (Alcohol) (Labelling) Regulations 2023 and commenced the remaining provisions of Section 12 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. There is a 3-year lead-in to allow industry time to comply with the requirements and the measures will come into operation on 22 May 2026.

The labelling law provides that labels on alcohol products sold in the State must state the quantity of grams of alcohol and the calorie content of the product. In addition, they will warn about the risk of consuming alcohol when pregnant and will also warn of the risk of liver disease and fatal cancers from alcohol consumption. The labels will direct the consumer to the HSE website, www.askaboutalcohol.ie, for further information. The health warnings will also be displayed on notices in licensed premises and on websites that sell alcohol. The purpose of the labelling law is to ensure that important and necessary public health information is communicated to the Irish consumer at the point of purchase, thereby enabling the consumer to make an informed choice about their alcohol consumption.

According to Ireland’s National Cancer Registry, alcohol consumption is the fourth highest modifiable risk factor for cancer in Ireland causing 2.4% of all cancers in the year 2016. Alcohol consumption accounted for 32% of cancers of the pharynx, 29% of cancers of the mouth and 21% of cancers of the larynx as well as 7.5% of breast cancers in Ireland in that year. Public awareness in Ireland of the cancer risk involved in alcohol consumption is low. Only 21% surveyed were aware of the link between drinking more than the recommended amount and an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

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