• When it comes to obesity, I think the particular problem for women in Ireland is actually in adolescence, when physical activity goes off a cliff edge

    Posted on May 6, 2015 by in News Updates

    ÷ Professor Donal O’Shea is co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity

    Childhood-Obesity-appThe concept of active transport to school, or being involved in sport or physical activity of any kind is particularly problematic for girls in Ireland.

    Advertising is targeted equally at both boys and girls, but the big difference is in the physical activity in young Irish women.

    I think the other factor that we are increasingly aware of is calories in alcohol, and the pattern of young Irish female drinking is very different to other European countries in that it starts earlier and tends to be high-end ‘binging’ behaviour.

    Calorie content in alcohol is one of the reasons why Ireland is going to be ‘top of the pops’ in 2030 and that applies to both men and women.

    Men do continue physical activity through secondary school and after, for a few years. Then it tends to tail off in their early 20s.

    We know that we were underweight as a population in the 1940s. In the 1960s and 1970s we were probably a normal weight and now we have gone to the top of the table in terms of overweight and obesity.

    Initially in the 1960s and 1970s, everyone was delighted that we were putting on weight, because it was progress. Now we have overshot and that’s the problem with obesity, it has come along disguised as progress.

    Obesity causes infection, it causes cancer, it causes diabetes, it causes heart disease, and if you are obese and you have any of those conditions, then you’ll do worse with them.

    We are already dealing with the problem in the health service and we are not able to see our diabetes patients often enough.

    We are not able to afford the cancer bills that are coming through, so the prospect of what we will be facing in 2030, where we have predicted up to 90pc of the population being overweight or obese, it’s just an unmanageable, unthinkable scenario.

    What’s coming down the tracks is going to engulf the health service and submerge it, when it’s already creaking.

    Obesity is about 70pc to 80pc environmental, so when you walk out for lunch at school and go across to your garage forecourt, you are effectively poisoned as a 12-year-old.

    When that’s what is available – high-fat, high-salt, really cheap food – that’s what you will have because it’s the norm. It then becomes worse than the norm because it becomes addictive and you then need that hit.

    So the challenge for this Government is to look beyond the five years of re-election prospects and say unless we have a healthy Ireland we are going to be the fattest country in Europe.

    What is needed is a more active environment combined with marked limiting of cheap, fatty, salty foods availability to children, limits on their promotion and finally tax at certain points.


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