More Scary Studies on Obesity in Ireland

Today’s World Health Organisation study on obesity in Europe puts Ireland at the top of a league nobody wants to be leading. It predicts 89% of Irish men will be overweight or obese by 2030, more than any other European country while 85% of Irish women are predicted to be overweight or obese by then also. Can we imagine the pressure this is going to create on our already overstretched health service as our population simultaneously ages ?

Some quotes today from our leading obesity expert Prof Donal O’Shea on RTE Radio’s  Morning Ireland programme:

“We have a particular environment where physical activity has gone off a cliff edge, particularly for adolescents and adolescent girls………obesity is already driving a diabetes epidemic, a cancer epidemic, a heart disease epidemic that frankly within the Health Service we’re currently not coping with”

” We’ve never had a population where we’ve had more super-fit people……It’s a small percentage, 15 to 20 per cent are super-fit, 80 per cent are inactive or overweight….The behaviour that has lead to obesity and the physical appearance of obesity has become the norm.”

Prof Donal O'Shea

Prof Donal O’Shea

Obesity is a complex issue driven by many factors which are constantly changing in the modern world but some of those factors are not complex and are within our control. The trouble is all of those factors have been moving in the wrong direction with changes in lifestyle over the past 30 years. When it boils down to it, the equation of MORE IN (calories consumed) and LESS OUT (calories burnt by physical activity) is a simple one and is driving us towards one result over time and will result in the WHO’s dire forecasts coming to reality if we don’t change our behaviour as a society.

Prof O’Shea’s reference to super-fit people above is also interesting. It touches on a belief I have that the average person (adult or child) who is physically active understands more about healthy eating that the average person who is not physically active. While this may seem simplistic, I do believe it is easier to educate children about healthy eating when they are physically active because the two complement each other. In our efforts to get children moving more, we can also take the opportunity to subtly educate them about the nutrition required to help them move more and better. There is a potential synergy between two factors causing weight problems which we should try to exploit. I will shortly be talking to parents in the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles programme in Temple St hospital about how to best engage young children in sport where this notion is central to this excellent programme delivered by a multi-disciplinary team including paediatricians, physiotherapists, nutrionists and pschcologists.

Amongst other things, Dr Lorraine Brennan’s upcoming research of girls starting the Fun Direction programme will look at the effectiveness of a nutrition message delivered to girls within an environment of regular physical activity. Dr Brennan is a senior lecturer in the UCD Institute of Food & Health and the research will examine the programme’s intervention over 20 weeks in the areas of physical literacy, nutrition, body composition and social development.


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