Ireland has reached a ‘tipping point’ in the fight against obesity, according to Professor Donal O’Shea, HSE director for the disease.
or the first time a person living in Ireland is more likely to be overweight or obese than a ‘normal’ weight after the pandemic caused a rise in unhealthy eating.
He was speaking after a World Health Organization (WHO) report released last Monday that named Ireland as one of the ten most obese nations on the European continent.
It also says that digital delivery apps and online entertainment are fueling a Europe-wide obesity crisis of “epidemic proportions”, leading to an additional 1.2 million deaths a year.
Based on UK trends, closely followed by Ireland, Prof O’Shea estimates that another 50,000 children and 200,000 adults became overweight or obese here during the pandemic.
“We have very good population level information that there has been significant weight gain in children and adolescents and adults due to the Covid-19 restrictions and lifestyle changes. It is now ‘uncommon’ in Ireland to be of a normal or healthy weight. That’s where we tipped,” said Prof. O’Shea.
He described the WHO report as “incredibly comprehensive” – but warned that the data was discontinued before the pandemic.
“It’s really stark when you look at how the chart is trending up from 1980 to 2016. But the dates only go to 2016 and that is before Covid.
“While the report is shocking, it does not capture the full impact of the pandemic on weight gain.”
He said for more up to date data we would have to look at the latest figures released in the UK.
“A new study shows that Covid-19 has increased the number of overweight and obese children by a further 25 percent. We are monitoring the UK very closely so we can expect a similar increase here when official figures are released.”
NHS figures revealed that 255 in 1,000 children aged 10 or 11 were obese in 2020/21, as were 144 in 1,000 children aged four and five.
Meanwhile, Prof O’Shea also warned that the cost of living crisis will exacerbate the obesity crisis and lead families to opt for cheaper ready meals as their grocery bills rise.
“It’s an opportunity for the food and drink industry to sell more of their cheaper foods high in fat, salt and sugar – and they will. The discounts apply to the “stack ’em up, sell ’em cheap” products.
His comments come after he held talks with Musgrave, Ireland’s leading grocery wholesaler, to demand their buy-one-get-one-free offer extend to healthy food options.
“The ‘buy one, get one free’ offer is always focused on highly processed, high fat, high salt and high sugar options – and they will continue to do so because that’s what makes their money. The food and beverage industry is looking at its bottom line at every point,” said Prof. O’Shea, who also met with representatives from Coca-Cola.
Referring to the overall rise in obesity, he said Ireland was not an outlier.
“Every single country is fighting. This means that the food and beverage industry, combined with our inactive society, wins hands down in the fight against obesity.”
While obesity drives diseases like cancer in adulthood, it also causes mental health problems in a younger population.
“Children and young people living with obesity complain of very bad moods and very low self-esteem. In Ireland children get their first device, phone or tablet, at the age of eight or nine. They use social media and are inundated with images of perfect, unattainable bodies.”
At the same time, he said, they’re also being bombarded with ads from the same social media companies promoting highly addictive foods.
“We’re just not doing enough to prevent that,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/post-lockdown-a-normal-weight-has-become-rare-in-ireland-as-we-climb-the-obese-league-tables-41626781.html Post lockdown, a ‘normal’ weight has become rare in Ireland as we climb the obese league tables