Government health warning: we can't make you skinny
THE Government cannot make the staggering number of Irish people who are overweight and obese "skinny", new Health Minister Leo Varadkar warned yesterday.
The minister signalled a "tough love" approach to our escalating crisis of bulging waistlines – although he said he was committed to outlawing cheap alcohol.
Commenting on figures showing four in five over-50s are overweight or obese he said: "The Government is there to help and there are a lot of measures there to help.
"But the Government can't make you skinny. At the end of the day it is important people modify their lifestyle," he said, adding that he will be putting emphasis on exercise.
The minister, a trained GP and a self-confessed fitness fan, said he was not in favour of a sugar tax despite the figures.
Earlier, obesity expert Dr Donal O'Shea warned that around 100 people a day were dying from diseases caused by being overweight and Ireland would be the fattest country in Europe by 2030.
The minister said: "At the end of the day it is important people modify their lifestyle." Four out of five are obese.
"People who are overweight or obese put themselves at greater risk of illness, particularly in later life.
"Ultimately, the vast majority of people can address obesity and being overweight through lifestyle change, through eating healthily and taking a lot more exercise."
Mr Varadkar said that his predecessor, Dr James Reilly, who is now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, would continue with his crusade against tobacco.
He himself would be "totally involved" in public health and the logistics of elements that will be shared by Dr Reilly's department were being worked out, he added.
When questioned on his plans to give medical cards to people on the basis of their medical condition, rather than their means, he conceded that it would be difficult to draw up an "hierarchy" of illness and decide which people should be left out.
Mr Varadkar continued: "There is also severity within those illnesses. Obesity and being overweight are considered illnesses, too, so in that case you would be extending the medical card to almost the entire population, which would not be realistic."
He said that he would let the review group – which is drawing up the list – do its work and report in the autumn.
Asked about the latest figures, which show a rise in the number of people facing delays for outpatient appointments and operations this year, he said they were an improvement on this time last year.
Mr Varadkar said he believed hospitals could not cut back on services because that would reverse the progress that had already been made.
But the HSE supplementary health budget for this year could be as high as €500m, he conceded.
The minister said he planned to have "realistic" pre-Budget discussions to draw up funding for the health service.