We're fat and getting fatter, but we still can't face the f-word
If we lost a few stone as a result, says Sarah Caden, then facing up to our national fatness might not be a bad thing
Published 10/05/2015 | 02:30
These days, to call someone fat is the worst insult you could sling at them. How strange that is, in a country where it is becoming the norm to be overweight.
Last week alone, the World Health Organisation (WHO) presented statistics that projected that by 2030, Irish men will be the most overweight in Europe. They also predicted that while 23pc of Irish women are considered obese now, almost half the female population will be by 2030.
Not just overweight, not even just fat; but obese. That's not the territory of lay off the biscuits and the nightly goblet of wine. That's gastric-band territory. For half the women in the country. Who'd still take the major hump if you dared to suggest that they were fat.
Bad people are fat. That's basically what we believe. And that's why we can't talk about it. It's why doctors find it hard to tell their patients to lose weight; it's why they find it even more difficult to tell a parent that their child is overweight. Look how tentatively Leo Varadkar suggested last week, in the wake of the WHO, that doctors should prescribe exercise rather than medication in cases of excess weight. It sounds like a tame suggestion - go take a walk - but we are that dislocated from reality that this is now a challenge, to both doctor and patient.
But if we don't find a way of addressing this, owning it, facing it and calling it by name, how are we ever going to fix it? And if the women of Ireland are in trouble with their weight down the road, then our kids are finished.
Despite the fact that it's now considered the norm to have that so-called stubborn half-stone on us, we still glorify the thin among us. Yeah, yeah, Ruben loved the larger lady, but that was a very, very long time ago, when plumpness was an indicator of wealth and success. And when people didn't expect to live to 100. But in this century and the last, we judge a thin person to be smarter and superior. It's what everyone wants to be, and yet, in growing numbers, we're failing to achieve it. And, it would seem, when we can't be the ideal, the size 8, or the 27in waist, we just let it all go to pot.
People perfectly able to conduct themselves with common sense and logic in other areas of their lives fall down in the face of their increasing fatness. We fetishise food, call ourselves chocoholics and claim obsession with various confectionery - thus suggesting that our eating is beyond our control. We consider exercise something for which you need time and commitment and a regime, as opposed to something you get if you walk to work.
You'd think that in the age of the selfie and the preoccupation with overly thin celebrities, the knock-on effect would be a fitter, thinner population. The fact that it's the opposite says a lot about how we regard our bodies. When the WHO tries to frighten everyone into taking in hand how overweight they are, they aren't commenting on whether the Irish are hot or not. They're saying we're really unhealthy and that we're killing ourselves. Being overweight isn't bad because you don't have a 'beach-ready body', it's bad because it's doing damage to your heart and your health. And your kids.
Dr Donal O'Shea, who is unflinching in his commonsense about our national overweight problem, says that the best way to stop your children becoming overweight adults is to never let them become overweight children. We know, logically, that this is about feeding them properly and making sure they get exercise, but, as with the whole drink-awareness education, our example is far more powerful than any other strategy.
But we're sending them mixed messages. We're raising them aware that the good people, the ones who get attention and acclaim and approval, are skinny celebs, women who 'snap back' post-partum, very specific types whose figures are often a combination of a naturally slender frame and half-starvation. And while we show our kids that this is the ideal, we offer a poor example of the norm, which is a culture of overeating the wrong foods, not exercising unless it's with an iron man or a bikini as a goal, and a national sense of dietary defeatedness.
We're fat. And if that offends us, maybe it should. Because something has to motivate us to fix it.