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Ireland's obesity problem will be worse than cholera or Aids for our health service, professor warns

Ireland's obesity crisis with statistics showing we could be Europe's fattest country by 2030 is worse than cholera or Aids epidemic, a leading expert has warned.

Professor Donal O'Shea, head of weight management services at St Colmcille's and at St Vincent's Hospital and co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity, said the HSE is currently struggling to cope with obesity and the impact it has on a person's life now.

If the latest warning on obesity in Ireland from the World Health Organisation comes to fruition, the "scenario would be unthinkable" for our health services here.

Prof O'Shea was speaking on RTE Radio One's 'Morning Ireland' on figures given by the WHO.

The figures show that 85pc of Irish women will be overweight and 57pc obese by 2030.

Around 89pc of Irish men will be classified as overweight, with some 48pc obese.

"Why are we leading the way? I think we have a particular environment where physical activity has gone off a cliff edge particularly for adolescents, and adolescent girls, and we also have just an environment of unregulated, I would say poisoning of our kids, especially in the lower socio-economic groups with high fat, high salt, high sugar foods. So you've got the perfect storm," Prof O'Shea said this morning.

Prof O'Shea said the figures do not come as a surprise, as the WHO warned them last year "they were coming".

"We're on course to be the fattest country inEurope in by 2030. We must pay attention and we must take action," he urged.

"We have an environment where kids leave school for lunch and they go to a garage forecourt and they literally walk down an aisle of high fat, high salt, high sugar foods to buy a chicken fillet roll or breakfast roll that contains their total daily calorie requirements and we know it's harming.

"If it wasn't harming and if obesity was a purely physical or an appearance problem, then it wouldn't be an issue.

"Obesity is already driving a diabetes epidemic, a cancer epidemic, a heart disease epidemic that frankly within the health service we're currently not coping with.

"If the WHO figures are even half correct, it's an unthinkable scenario," he warned.

A change in a attitude towards physical activity is required as well as more awareness of health eating.

And while genes do play a role in our weight, when the rates are about 80pc, it is an environmental issue and not a genetic one, Prof O'Shea said.

"What we need to do is we need to pay attention to this warning. And then we need to act. And action in this case is to look at the Netherlands which are predicting by 2030 to have 11pc to 15pc obesity rates compared to Ireland's over 50pc.

"They just have a different attitude to physical activity, they're a little bit taller, genetically that does help, genes do contribute to the problem but they only contribute. 80pc is an environmental problem.

"We need the healthy Ireland framework rolled out," he said.

IMO President Dr. Ray Walley, said the warning from the WHO was the starkest warning of an impending health crisis for Ireland that he has seen in 30 years in medicine. 

“Government must act and act fast.  We need a comprehensive plan across all Government including taxation on high fat and high sugar foods, this taxation should be used to fund integrated health services for obese patients and fund educational projects to encourage younger people to make healthier choices,” he said.

“Nothing should be out of scope.  We need a response which ranges from overseeing advertising to how we encourage exercise to how we produce high quality food to how we help people currently suffering with obesity.” 

Online Editors

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