Obesity is becoming one of Ireland's most serious health problems, Health Minister Micheal Martin warned yesterday, revealing new statistics that suggest health foods could have significant potential in the small marketplace.
One in eight Irish people are obese and figures from the health department show that the nation has become steadily heavier, with a 30 per cent increase in reported obesity levels over the last four years.
"The key causes of obesity are linked to food habits and physical activity levels," Martin said yesterday at the launch of a national public awareness campaign to tackle the issue.
Ireland's weather, as well as poor sports facilities, were also blamed for sedentary lifestyles in a recent survey. The Every Step Counts campaign will try to encourage healthy eating and exercise through nationwide events during the coming months.
Increasing public awareness of healthy eating could boost the Irish market for functional foods - conservatively valued at $10 million (€8.3m). It is largely dominated by functional dairy products but a number of small and medium-sized firms have identified the growing opportunities offered by increasing demand for healthier foods.
The Irish government's Enterprise Ireland initiative is currently offering these companies targeted skills training in a bid to boost their success in the marketplace.
Meanwhile Irish dairy firm Glanbia is investing €15 million in a new innovation centre to develop functional foods and health ingredients.