Wednesday 11 December 2019

'Like many people, I am obese...I eat healthily but I should exercise more,' says Corcoran-Kennedy

Junior Health Minister says we must all combat ‘epidemic’

Junior Minister Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy in her office in Hawkins House. Photo: K O’Brien
Junior Minister Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy in her office in Hawkins House. Photo: K O’Brien

Eilish O’Regan

The junior health minister who admits she is obese has no plans to go on a diet - but says she needs to start exercising.

The Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy - whose job is to reduce our expanding waistlines - does not believe in diets and says her downfall is that she is not active enough.

"I eat healthily with a lot of fruit and vegetables but my weakness is that I am not taking enough exercise.

"It is something I need to consciously work on. I have to make it part of my day.

"I let regular exercise slip and I have to get my act together. I love to swim but that has gone by the wayside."

The Fine Gael TD for Offaly will front a major Government obesity strategy next month to combat what she describes as a national epidemic.

The 53-year-old mother of two adult children had her own wake-up call at the end of last year when she went to her GP for a check-up and was diagnosed as obese.

"I wouldn't have described myself as obese at all. I thought I was lovely," she joked.

"But let's face it, I am obese based on my BMI. There are people who are lighter than I am who are also obese. They may not realise they have a challenge.

"It is important to recognise it to prevent health difficulties that come with it.

"It was a bitter pill for me to swallow."

The minister said she has never followed a diet.

But, like other TDs, she has fallen victim to the "Dáil stone" since being elected in 2011.

The pounds very gradually piled on with a lack of regular exercise, erratic hours and the weekly pressures of commuting to Leinster House along with the demands of constituency work.

She wants to take a sensible approach to getting more of us off the couch by setting realistic goals and making it easier for people to be active and aware of healthy food choices.

"We can all do more. There is no point in advising people like myself for instance on the wrong side of 50 to hire a personal trainer.

"We can incorporate exercise into our day. Instead of meeting someone for a coffee at lunch, go for a walk and a chat.

"If the office is on the ninth floor, take a lift to the seventh and then the stairs. Build it into the day."

As a mother, she made sure only to give her son and daughter, who are now in their twenties, fizzy drinks as a treat and is conscious of the food marketing pressures parents face with clever campaigns. She is a strong supporter of the plan to introduce a sugar tax on sweetened drinks but wants the money generated to be ploughed back into the health service.

"There are a lot of hidden sugars in foods we need to educate people about.

"For instance, the obesity strategy will highlight the similarity between a glass of wine and a doughnut.

"We need to look more at the labelling on foods, such as some yogurts which can have a lot of sugar."

The strategy will involve actions by various Government departments from agriculture to transport and environment and will cover all age groups.

The aim of the plan is to reduce the national level of people who are overweight by 5pc over five years.

The minister is very keen to help and support more new mothers to breastfeed.

"I breastfed my children with help from the La Leche League. There is a pain-free way of doing it. We know it reduces the risk of obesity."

Tackling obesity is not about vanity but health and reducing the risks it brings in increasing a person's chances of higher blood pressure, cancers and other diseases, she added.

The minister was a county councillor in Offaly for over 11 years before being elected to the Dáil.

She has seen what can be done at local level to encourage better health and wellbeing.

Another central part of her work will be moves to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol and the introduction of plain packaging of cigarettes.

She is hopeful headway can be made in tackling our drink culture and says measures such as no longer allowing alcohol to be on display in shops next to regular grocery items are vital in sending a message to children in particular.

Asked about the "new politics" and the health of the minority Government, Ms Corcoran-Kennedy said she is confident it will last its full term.

"Everyone has great goodwill towards it. Everyone is approaching it with great responsibility.

"I was on the Dáil reform committee myself and it was my first taste of working with other parties and Independents. People worked very productively together. We did not agree about everything but we did build consensus.

"If it is an example of how we can work in the future, we will have a good stable Government and that is what people ask of us. It is only right that an opportunity be given to the Government to actually achieve something.

"We have a responsibility as public representatives to make decisions and get on with things.

"That is the message coming back to me."

Irish Independent

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