Monday 20 May 2019

'Can Ireland afford to have half its citizens clinically obese?'

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Photo: Mark Condren
Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Photo: Mark Condren
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

We learned two unsettling facts about the fight against obesity last week.

In the UK, people spend twice as long on the toilet each week as they do exercising - and children now consume a year's worth of sugar in just five months.

Given that Ireland is currently ahead of the UK in the race to become Europe's fattest nation, the figures hold stark relevance here.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef and broadcaster who is championing Britain's battle against junk food, acknowledges it "sounds like you guys have got it really bad here".

But the interesting thing about Hugh's message is that he doesn't think a large part of it is our fault.

In fact, while most people berate themselves for turning to junk food, Hugh says we often don't have much choice. "People think they are in control of what they eat. Actually, they are kind of not. There is so much money being spent on getting us to do what the big junk food companies want us to do.

"When you sit down with your kids to watch big family entertainment shows, by the end of just one series, you've watched an entire feature length movie worth of junk food ads.

"On top of campaigns dedicated to getting us to eat junk, a lot of these foods are also calculated to make us want more and more.

"Take the texture of a doughnut for example. In the old days, it was quite chewy. Now they are being made to dissolve in the mouth. You get that sugar coating and that little bit of crispy fat on the outside and then that very very soft dough and in about three mouthfuls the whole thing has gone down easy and you reach for more.

"All of these foods are designed to hit the reward system and keep you coming back for more. No wonder we are hooked.

"We love to think we have free will but our will is being manipulated all the time in a very powerful way."

He says that the advice he would give Taoiseach Leo Varadkar "depends on where he wants the country to be 20 or 30 years from now".

"If you want to see 50pc of your population overweight and clinically obese, then stay on the current track. If you think your health system can bear the burden of having 50pc of the population obese, maybe 20pc suffering from type 2 diabetes, increased amputations going on in hospitals, carry on.

"But if you want to try and avert that issue then you have to do something. Nothing doesn't work. You can't do nothing. You have got to have some ideas."

In the UK, Hugh has been the power behind some significant changes, first helping to bring in a traffic-light system on brands such as Nestle cereals - which Ireland will benefit from - and following on from the release of his River Cottage Much More Veg cookbook he has also seen the crowd funding of a ''Veg Power'' campaign to encourage people to make "vegetables the central part of your diet",

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was speaking at the Taste of Dublin festival which continues today in the Iveagh Gardens until 9pm

Sunday Independent

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