Health

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Michelle's health guru warns clock ticking on our obesity crisis

Michelle Obama
Keynote speaker Robin Schepper and Dr Muireann Cullen, manager of the Nutrition and Health Foundation at the seminar in Dublin

MICHELLE Obama's health guru has urged every Irish government minister to look at what they can do to tackle Ireland's growing obesity crisis.

Robin Schepper, who set up the US first lady's 'Let's Move' campaign, said that the economic costs of obesity must be stressed to persuade policy makers of the urgency of taking steps to reduce it.

Over 60pc of Irish adults are now overweight or obese as are one-in-four preschool children.

Ms Schepper told a Nutrition and Health Foundation seminar in Dublin of the massive health costs of obesity.

It has even become a national security issue in the United States as 27pc of potential recruits to the US military are too overweight to join and thousands have to leave the armed forces each year because they fail fitness tests.

Ms Schepper said that many soldiers had been unable to perform their daily fitness drills because they were eating doughnuts for breakfast, but measures to provide healthier food at bases had proven highly successful.

Stressing that nutritious foods were better "performance fuel" had worked with them because 19-year-olds didn't really care about long-term health but were keen to perform better athletically, she said.

Ms Schepper said that Ireland could learn lessons from the US including the need to get key decision makers on board.

Every government minister should be asked what they could do to tackle obesity.

This included measures to provide healthier environments such as putting in cycle paths and footpaths, as this enabled people to get active, she said.

It made sense to stress the economic costs of obesity including the massive healthcare bill, lost productivity at work and academic underachievement to get through to those who were conservative on the need for state action to tackle it.

ROLE MODELS

Michelle Obama's 'Lets Move' campaign had been very successful in using celebrities such as Beyonce and sporting stars to champion the healthy living message, she said.

On a personal level parents needed to be role models to their children and people should encourage relatives and friends to make healthy choices.

She said the US had moved from the confusing food pyramid as a system of nutrition advice to a simpler to understand "food plate" guide in 2011.

There was no magic bullet to tackle obesity as it had taken 30 years to get to the current situation and it would probably take 30 more to reverse it, but prevention was crucial Ms Schepper said.

Irish Independent

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