Round-the-clock food shopping, takeaways to your door - small wonder we're so big
Published 06/07/2016 | 02:30
W icklow County Council has voted in favour of adopting a new county development plan that would ban fast food outlets from opening within 400m of schools. Now, there are many reasons why children are growing fatter, including lack of activity, lack of cooking skills and time, and the ubiquity of sugary treats. Nevertheless, the takeaway is a massive threat to our children's health.
"This is a really positive initiative," says obesity specialist Professor Donal O'Shea. "There is now clear evidence that proximity determines purchasing patterns and that the density of fast-food outlets is linked to obesity rates."
He adds: "The Healthy Ireland Framework asks for whole-of-society change and this is an example of planning coming on board with making Ireland healthy. It's in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations and the Royal College of Physicians' Policy Group recommendations." He chairs that group.
Nobody will be surprised that teenagers have a taste for eating badly. Left to their own devices, junk food is probably all they'd eat.
But they aren't left to their own devices, are they? They have parents or guardians. Today, we frequently have a reality where both parents are working and children are left to eat fast food or convenience food, which can be fairly grim if not managed sensibly.
This is a societal problem, because of the pressure to earn, the pressure to buy a home, etc. No grown-up is at home and the kids are left to fire a pizza into the oven.
Any nation with supermarkets the size of football fields, 24-hour food shopping and takeaways that deliver to your doorstep can easily develop an eating disorder. Sure, the parents have a role in doing better, but it's not a case of parents wilfully over-stuffing their infants - education and direction need to be better, and affordability comes into it, too. While people need to take responsibility for their own weight, those pesky grey areas do insist on popping up.
For many people, slim and healthy costs money that they just don't have. Data from Eurostat shows that, in 2013, food and non-alcoholic beverage prices in Ireland were 17pc higher than the EU average. Researchers Caroline Carney and Bertrand Maître, using data from the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC), found that one in 10 people are living in food poverty in Ireland.
Look at some of the expensive lengths better-off people go to. They have personal trainers, nutritionists, diet food delivery services, electronic fitness trackers and vitamin supplements. The list is endless - before you even get to the food. The organic seasonal veg box is far beyond the reach of the ordinary family's food budget.
We need to acknowledge that there is a very strong economic factor present, not only in weight-related problems, but also in the hard slog of putting them right. While generally people become overweight for the same reasons, some stay that way because of factors beyond their control.
It would be a good idea to weigh primary school pupils once a year to keep track of their weight. Dr Eva Orsmond, who owns a string of weight loss clinics, has already made a plan for the Government to start weighing children at school and supports positive action plans rather than going down the route of banning food outlets.
"Weighing children could be easily done and would empower the children," she says. "We know children are quick to teach their own parents. You wouldn't see the results immediately, but we would see them in 10 or 15 years' time. We could also make home economics compulsory, not classes making scones and baking cakes, but teach children basic things about vegetables and about calories."
We should welcome this Wicklow move, not as a campaign against fast-food outlets, but as one set on promoting healthy living. Doing nothing is how you get twentysomethings slumped on their parents' settee.
In terms of the healthcare bill we are storing up for ourselves, it is something we cannot afford.