Launch of START; a new five-year public health campaign to start families on the path to a healthier future

  • Campaign aims to help parents to "make a start" at specific healthy eating and activity habits and build on that one daily win.

Wednesday 01 November, 2017. A new five-year public health awareness campaign - “START” - to set families on the path to a healthier future has been launched today by the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD and Minister for State Catherine Byrne TD. The campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland has been developed with the input of parents, health professionals and community leaders and acknowledges that the solutions to tackling overweight and obesity are multiple and that every sector has a role to play in this major health issue.

For parents, the campaign advertising recognises the realities of daily parenting, how difficult it can be to change habits or create new ones and how external factors can make that more challenging. The "START" campaign messages have been created to help parents get started and build momentum by achieving one daily win for example adding more vegetables to dinner time, swapping sugary drinks for water. The campaign also recognises that parenting is tough but that making healthier changes is necessary and worth it to help children on the way to a healthier life.

Reflecting the partners involved in the campaign, the broader "START" campaign is underpinned by "A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025" and is designed around four key themes to deliver a system-wide approach to tackling overweight and obesity:

  1. Providing families with practical advice and support to help build their confidence in making positive changes to their lives include video, online and social content covering food, making changes and physical activity.
  2. Delivering a consistent approach across all relevant sectors including schools, crèches, hospitals and GP surgeries by integrating the campaign with existing programmes such as the HSE’s Making Every Contact Count.
  3. Supporting sustainable communities and tapping into existing community health programmes like Community Food Initiatives.
  4. Tackling the obesogenic environment as a driver for change through key policy initiatives such as the new healthy eating standards for state-funded school meals and the sugar tax.

Launching the campaign, Minister for Health, Simon Harris, TD, said:

This new public health campaign is all about starting families on the path to a healthier future. Unfortunately in Ireland today, 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese. We all need to take practical steps every day to improve our own health and particularly that of our children. We also need to take steps as a country to turn the tide against unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, that have become common place and that are having a real impact on our children’s health and wellbeing. In line with Healthy Ireland and our Obesity Policy, this campaign recognises that it will take all sectors of society working together to create a healthier environment that will support and empower people to make positive changes. I would encourage everyone to make those changes and to persist with them.”

Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne TD, continued “This campaign has huge potential to get into homes in every community and help parents to make those changes that people want to make, but which everyday struggles make harder to do. By tapping into existing community initiatives and supports, we can work together to deliver clear, consistent messages and resources which will have an impact on the health of families and communities for the rest of their lives”.

The campaign aims to build a society-wide movement that will inspire and support parents to start building and persisting with healthy lifestyle habits. The campaign seeks to help families in taking that first step and ongoing steps for their children’s health by starting with one daily win, and encouraging them to persist no matter how often life and the environment intervenes to derail their efforts.

Sarah O’Brien, HSE National Lead, Healthy Eating and Active Living programme said; “We know that healthy eating, physical activity and healthy weight are important for our children’s health and wellbeing both now and as adults. The habits and behaviours that support healthy lifestyles begin in childhood and are reinforced as we grow up in our homes, schools and communities. As a health service, we have many opportunities to speak with parents and support them to make and persist with the small changes that make a big difference. As a partner in the START campaign, we will be working with our colleagues across services, in hospitals and in communities, to ensure that all parents receive consistent, effective and timely information and support. We will promote the campaign resources and materials for parents and professionals and encourage professionals to talk with parents at every given opportunity’.

Ray Dolan, Chief Executive, safefood added, “Parents have been part of our campaign development from the beginning and we’ve listened to them to understand the challenges of parenting. Through the campaign advertising, we hope to reflect the real lives of parents while also inspiring, empowering and supporting them to make a start. We want to build on this and our social and digital tools will allow these conversations to continue among parents so they can share their own insights, tips and healthy hacks. There is no easy answer to this, we recognise that parenting is tough but we know parents are tougher. This campaign encourages a “never fail to make an attempt” attitude. A half hour less of screen time daily is a win. Moving from two pieces of fruit and veg a day to three is progress. This campaign is a key initiative for safefood, HSE and partners over the next 5 years and we look forward to helping parents build on their positive starts. To find out more about the campaign, visit

- Ends -

at the START launch outside

For further information or to request an interview, please contact

Emma Walsh / Amy Pilgrim

Wilson Hartnell

Tel: +353 1 669 0030  

Mob: +353 87 317 0897 (Emma Walsh) / +353 87 261 3300 (Amy Pilgrim)

Email: /


Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll


Tel: 00353 1 448 0600

Mob: 00353 86 381 1034 (Dermot) / 00353 86 150 3047 (Julie)

Editors notes

In identifying the positive starts that parents and families can take, the campaign advertising focuses on seven key lifestyle habits:

  • Minimise intake of foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Establish water and milk as routine drinks
  • Give appropriate child-sized portions to children
  • Include more fruit and vegetables across the week
  • Increase physical activity levels
  • Limit screen time
  • Increase sleep time

The campaign was developed using a "co-creation" approach which involved working with parents in particular, and key stakeholders to ensure the campaign was relevant, realistic and could achieve results.

According to recent research*, only 23% of children eat fruit more than once a day while only 22% eat vegetables more than once a day. 13% of children report drinking soft drinks daily or more. 13% of children report never having breakfast during weekdays.

*Gavin A, Keane E, Callaghan M, Molcho M, Kelly C, Nic Gabhainn S. The Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study 2014. Health Promotion Research Centre, National University of Ireland, Galway & Department of Health, 2015.