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O'Leary the man to lead the charge on fight with obesity


Rob Kearney, Ryan Tubridy, Dave Kearney

Rob Kearney, Ryan Tubridy, Dave Kearney

Rob Kearney, Ryan Tubridy, Dave Kearney

Walked in on the Late Late Show recently to see the deliciously dishy and delectably wholesome Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, chatting about life and rugby and, oh yes, milk. They have been appointed as ambassadors for the National Dairy Council and, between themselves and Ryan Tubridy, they managed to give milk drinking a pretty decent plug.

Now what would be really impressive would be to see either of the Louth lads proudly displaying a milky moustache as he accepts his Man of the Match award after Ireland beat France in the Stade de France on March 15 to land the Grand Slam.

Mind you, where milk would love to be making an impression is in the drinks cabinet of the supermarkets which are bursting with so many other kinds of beverage. Virtually none of these would hold a candle to milk in terms of nutrition, but the dairy sector doesn't have the resources to take on the massive energy and soft drinks industries ... so casual consumers (most of us) are never going to pick up that message.

That is unless someone like Michael O'Leary were to come along and tell in every possible way, Joe and Josephine Soap about the Obesity, Diabetes and Various other unnecessary illnesses (ODV) lumbering down the tracks towards them. Their teenage kids need to be convinced of threat posed by ODV and they also need to be told of the role played by their diet in this process; and specifically what they are drinking.

Thing is though, there is no-one else like Michael O'Leary. In his 20 years of being at the helm and chief spokesman of Ryanair, he has turned the airline into the biggest in Europe and this was well facilitated by his ability to garner an incalculable amount of free publicity through his straight talking style of communication - a shock jock who always keeps the message simple for mass consumption.

The Ryanair boss's conversion to the cause of milk may not be as farfetched as it might first seem. O'Leary has long been promising that he will retire in three years' time. Last month, the airline appointed Kenny Jacobs as its first chief marketing officer in what is being seen as an effort to soften its consumer image and, given that O'Leary has always been better at skinning sacred cows and cracking eggs rather than icing the cake, maybe, just maybe, the time to go is approaching.

He loves to take people by surprise and doesn't seem to be the kind that will just fly off over the horizon and hang up his guns. Farming is one of his few self-proclaimed interests (along with racehorses and Manchester City Football Club) and it's hard to imagine that he's going to be satisfied by a daily herding of his cherished Angus.

The opportunity for the dairy sector to start milking its potential appears to be reopening with the latest round of the 'Good Fat' versus 'Bad Fat' battle, in which it seems that saturated animal fats may, after half a century of being railed against, be better for our bodies that polyunsaturated plant oils.


Even more central to our nation's deteriorating health is sugar and artificial sweeteners, and this is where sports drinks come into play. A couple of months back, I heard the nutritional expert Professor Donal O'Shea speak about the country's building avalanche of obesity/diabetes and how many kids playing sports today consider an energy drink as intrinsic a part of their kit bag as their boots. One quarter of Irish children are overweight or obese. In the US that figure is 66pc. There are now more people in the world who are overweight than hungry.

Because, yes, of course, when we drink an energy/soft drink, we feel better because, whatever sweetener they contain gives a sudden lift. Instant gratification. Sadly, it's short-lived and we find ourselves reaching out for another fix. Most people undertaking moderate exercise would be better off going for a low tech boost of a glass of milk, so you're getting a nice dose of nutrients along with the calories.

As for the zero or low calorie versions of these drinks, they may have fewer calories but they are also highly processed and contain a variety of artificial sweeteners which can be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, and may actually trigger over-eating, resulting in weight gain and diabetes.

But Donal O'Shea and any other obesity expert can say all they like because it doesn't seem to be getting through. Are we not listening, do we not understand, do we not care, do we not understand enough or care enough to change? We need someone to push our bums off seats and pull our hands off cans.

Because they look fit and healthy, sportspeople are good subject material for marketing and hasn't it come a long way from the days of Tony Doran and Joe Cooney telling us how they protect their livestock with Ranizole.

The main areas promoted nowadays by Irish sports personalities are sportswear, soft drinks, personal care and cars; and I personally would have no problem with any of these except for the drinks. (And I would also exclude from this criticism those elite sportspeople who are professional in every way except pay and have to do endorsements just to survive in their chosen sport.)

So what if some fella believes Brian O'Driscoll uses a particular brand of razor; he is unlikely to believe that this is why he is good at scoring tries or has a gorgeous wife. But drinks ads reach out to teenagers and younger kids who don't sift through marketing hype. Because, if a drink looks good, tastes good and superstar X uses it, then they want to drink it too.

So, Michael, if you read this, what do you think, you have your moola made, do you want to move on to a fresh pasture, to save the health of the nation? You changed the way we fly, maybe you could also change the way we eat and drink. I promise you won't be disappointed at the scale of the challenge.

Irish Independent