Tuesday 19 March 2019

'Time to crack down on supersized Easter eggs' - obesity expert

Traditionally, the date of Easter depends on the phases of the moon.
Traditionally, the date of Easter depends on the phases of the moon.
Prof Donal O’Shea
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Easter eggs are getting bigger - and so are our kids.

The number of eggs a child gets has also become a competitive sport, with the average child receiving five eggs.

Now Ireland's leading obesity expert, Professor Donal O'Shea, says it is time for the Government to regulate the size of bumper-sized, high-salt, high-sugar, high-fat snacks throughout the year.

Dr O'Shea was speaking as Lindt chocolate Easter bunnies are now available up to 200g for the holiday season. The chocolate giant has also aligned itself with a hospital for sick children with a campaign to promote its 'personalised bunnies'. Meanwhile, Lindor is selling its miniature sweets in a "Maxi Ball" 550g version.

Prof Donal O’Shea
Prof Donal O’Shea

As Dr O'Shea explains: "When you see what's going on in shops around Halloween, Valentine's Day and Easter, it reflects industry's inability to self-regulate. They have to go for the quick win. I have spoken to the CEO of a soft drinks company and managers of wholesalers and, when they speak off the record, they are quite clear that what they are trying to promote is sales and it is not something they apply to their own children, family life or values.

"If you speak with them on a personal level about what they give their own kid, they say 'no way is my kid having three Easter eggs', because they are socio-economic one or two [families] but they have got to feed the market.

"When you get the chance to meet them, it is nice to see they know what they are doing but unfortunately they can't really face up to it."

He adds their behaviour "shouldn't surprise us because that's what they have to do - take responsibility for their shareholders and profit. So they go for it. We need to deal with this and if that means regulation, well, then regulate."

Illustrating examples of faux attempts by junk food companies to appear active in efforts to curb Ireland's obesity crisis, he says: "Nothing the food industry do is unplanned. It's all very well choreographed. Ten to 12 years ago, the food industry said they would get rid of the super-size Mars and Snickers bars and we thought 'great, that was a step in the right direction'. But then they just introduced 'the duo' pack. They can't help themselves."

In another example, he says: "The UK's public health department capped serving sizes of popular treats. They told companies 'you can't super-size any portion of confectionery that is for individual sale'. But the response really was that the food industry just laughed at that and brought out the multi-packs of sweets we are all familiar with today."

As a result, he says, "there has to be a continued evaluation of what they are doing".

On the trend of linking occasions to junk food, he says: "They have been successful in linking annual occasions to food and, if you have so much junk on a daily basis, the only way to make that special is to go large.

"This is all happening at the same time we know our health system crisis is now a direct result of lifestyle. At this stage, there is nothing in it for the Government not to deal with the obesity problem. There really isn't."

Irish customers will consume over 17m eggs - or 2,100 tonnes of chocolate - during the holiday season, while sales of Easter eggs are predicted to top €38.5m.

Sunday Independent

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