The growing obesity crisis

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A few weeks ago, I came across an old black and white picture of my classmates and me from junior school in the late 1960’s. It is striking how thin everyone was. There were several very good reasons for that, of course. We walked to school, cycled everywhere, played out of doors, and helped out on the farm.

The food we ate was all natural: no processed products full of salt or sugar back then. Sweets, crisps, chocolate, take aways and fizzy drinks were rare luxuries. How very different from today! If our house is anything to go by, the presses and fridge are full of these unhealthy treats, and we eat a take away at least once a week (although my husband, rather than our children, is the worst offender!)

As we move into the 21st century, we face many ongoing health challenges. Stress, mental health, illegal drugs, alcohol abuse and smoking correctly remain key areas of attention and focus. But I believe much more consideration needs to be given to another ticking time-bomb in Ireland’s health: obesity.

As many as 25% of Irish kids are now classified as overweight or obese

The figures are deeply alarming. As many as 25% of Irish kids are now classified as overweight or obese, and that figure rises to over 60% for the general population.

Being overweight increases your risk of cancer. It reduces your life expectancy. It increases the chances of you having diabetes, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

We know that smoking is harmful to our health, and to the government’s credit, it has taken a number of measures to discourage this unhealthy habit: high taxation, a ban on advertising, laws forbidding smoking in the workplace, plus supports to smokers who quit.

It’s high time we started treating obesity with the same urgency and ardour that we apply to smoking.

The best way is to treat virtually all health conditions is to catch them early. Better still, prevention is better than cure. Both those rules apply to obesity.

we desperately need more actions, and fewer words

In November 2018, the Joint Committee on Children & Youth Affairs in the Dail produced a lengthy report on tacking childhood obesity. The report contains no less than 20 worthy recommendations, but alas many of them are woolly and mealy-mouthed suggestions: “a total ban on advertising for unhealthy food” would make much more sense than the report’s proposal to “introduce a more robust nutrient profile model in the context of the advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods to children” (whatever that means!).

The tax on sugary drinks is a welcome step in the right direction, but we desperately need more actions, and fewer words. Rather than “do more research and consider the case for the phased introduction over time” approach of the report, we should immediately implement many of their common sense recommendations:

• Much greater supports and encouragement for physical exercise and sports in schools and clubs
• No new take aways near schools
• Healthy eating and cooking made a formal part of the school curriculum
• An advertising ban on unhealthy foods, and removal of vending machines from schools.
• Action on poverty, which conversely is one of the main causative factors in obesity.

Breda Gardner Homeopath, LCPH, MCOS, RGN runs busy natural health clinics at: Health Therapies Clinic, 13 Gladstone Street, Waterford and 15 Upper Patrick Street, Kilkenny. Tel: 087 2025753

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