Thursday 21 September 2017

'Don't tell me that any parent wants an obese kid. So don't blame the parent' - Ireland's new obesity professor

A child sits on the gym floor during a program for overweight children. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
A child sits on the gym floor during a program for overweight children. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Geraldine Gittens

Ireland's new clinical lead for obesity Professor Donal O'Shea has said parents are not to blame for Ireland's obesity epidemic.

Twelve percent of our three year olds in socially deprived areas are obese, while four percent of our three year olds in the better off areas are obese.

"That's a massive disparity by the age of three," Professor O'Shea told Today With Sean O'Rourke.

"Don't tell me that any parent wants an obese kid. So don't blame the parent. That's not acceptable when you've got an economic separation."

Professor O'Shea said he is in favour of a sugar tax because he said it would educate people how much sugar they consume.

"I have been asking for it for ten years. I think there isn't a single solution. But if you introduce a tax on sugar, you will number one, educate people. It's a behavioural tax – a bit like the plastic bag tax. Number two you will generate money, and while the Department of Finance says you can't put that money into obesity prevention, I say that attitude has to change."

Professor O'Shea said TV advertising is not the only form of advertising contributing to Ireland's obesity epidemic.

"It's the Snapchat advertising, it's the Instagram advertising that at the moment isn't captured at all but it's massive."

Physical activities for children drop at the weekends, he said. 

"If we get kids coming home asking for their weekend activity then we'll begin to win."

"We showed you can do the smoking ban when every other big country said you can't do it. And then they followed."

"If we can show that you can turn the obesity epidemic around in a country of this size with a road map - and we have a roadmap in place if we can activate it- then other countries will follow suit and Ireland will lead again in health terms," he said.

He added: "Breastfeeding is a massive be to a child heading off into life for their entire immune system and how it's programmed to deal with disease, regardless of whether it's a good effect on weight. 

"Breastfeeding rates in Ireland are at the moment unacceptable low. There are a multitude of things that need to be addressed within the health and wellbeing division that I'm going to be working two days a week now. I will be beating those drums as often as I can now."

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