Obesity policy to be welcomed
Published 25/09/2016 | 02:30
The obesity policy and action plan is potentially one of the most important initiatives undertaken since a similar initiative to heighten awareness of the dangers associated with and reduce levels of smoking in this country. The obesity initiative will have positive consequences for the general health of the nation and, as such, it is to be warmly welcomed. However, the extension of the initiative throughout all sections of society must be a priority.
Reducing the extent of of obesity is a key public health priority. There is a real danger that the health gains in life expectancy addressing factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and high lipid levels will be reversed due to the rising prevalence of obesity. Recent Irish studies have demonstrated that one in four children is overweight or obese; 60pc of adults surveyed were either overweight or obese, and 52pc of Irish adults aged 50 years and over are at a substantially increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease based on their waist circumference.
Obesity causes considerable health complications from premature onset diabetes in children, fertility and pregnancy- related complications in young women, and chronic disease development and premature mortality in the adult population. Obesity is one of the major risk factors for, and worsens outcomes from, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Severely obese people have a premature mortality rate similar to smokers and on average die eight to ten years sooner than people of normal weight. In Ireland, the cost of obesity to the State in 2009 was estimated at €1.13bn. In fact, a 5pc reduction in overweight and obesity levels will result in a €495m reduction in related direct healthcare costs over the next 20 years.
However, it should also be noted that while improvements have been made in many health indicators in recent years, inequalities are still apparent across levels of deprivation and social classes. Lifestyle risk-factors for chronic diseases are not distributed evenly throughout society. Overall, poorer people are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol in a hazardous pattern and to be obese. Populations in more deprived areas are less likely to cook/eat fresh ingredients, less likely to consume fruit and vegetables daily, and more likely to consume sugar-sweetened drinks.
Studies have shown that life expectancy in deprived areas is significantly less when compared with the most affluent areas. Chronic disease mortality is also considerably higher in lower social classes, with studies suggesting that mortality rates for cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease are between 100 and 200pc higher in the lowest social classes.
While the obesity policy and action plan is to be welcomed, social inclusion measures must continue to be a priority to ensure equity of access to health services for all. That said, there is also a personal responsibility on individuals across all sections of society. The health and well-being of the nation is not just the responsibility of government. The benefits of physical activity are extensive - not only does physical activity prevent disease, it also promotes well-being. Being physically active on a regular basis reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. It has also been shown to improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.