Tuesday 12 December 2017

Obesity is now a greater world health problem than hunger

Crisis: we have evolved into a nation of overweight people with almost a quarter of the country classed as obese
Crisis: we have evolved into a nation of overweight people with almost a quarter of the country classed as obese

Declan Coyle

Many years ago when God was young, I worked in the slums of the Philippines as a Columban missionary priest where I made the brutal, savage discovery of poverty, hunger and injustice in our world.

In my last 90 days there, I buried 65 children under two-years-old who died from hunger or hunger-related diseases. Their challenge was not fitness. It was survival.

When I came back to Ireland, I helped set up the Philippines Human Development Fund to support sustainable projects like the hugely successful micro-financing Grameen Banks. Over the past number of years the fund is supporting Preda, a Foundation set up by Fr Shay Cullen to care for children he rescues from brothels, jails and the homeless ones from the back streets and alleys.

I'm now in Thailand on a work tour through Asia. Last week I was in the Philippines. On the journey out I had Fionn, our 18-year-old son, with me. He is volunteering for three weeks in the Preda Centre. First, Fr Mickey Martin took him around the slums of Manila and I can tell you it was a real eye-opener for him.

He was amazed at how the poor people continued to hammer boards around their little shacks during the typhoon wind and rains. "I saw three families living in an area smaller than our bathroom at home," he said.

We saw so many tricycles and their riders peddling around the streets carrying anything from one to five passengers in their sidecars. We saw one rider as lean and fit as a Tour de France cyclist peddling up a hill with a very fat man in the sidecar. It symbolised the global health and fitness crisis in the world today.

Obesity is a bigger health problem globally than hunger, and is now the leading cause of disabilities around the world. There's been a massive shift in global health trends. Children who used to die from infectious diseases are now doing extremely well from immunisation and clean water.

However, the developing world is now obese and we are seeing the results. The so-called 'Western lifestyle' is being adapted all around the world, and the negative health impacts are all the same - more malnourished fat people.

There is enough food for the world's needs, but not for the world's greed.

I took the bus back from Olongapo to Manila when I dropped Fionn off at Preda. It was a five and a half hour journey through lashing rain and as we meandered our way through flooded roads. Manila really does gridlock. There was WiFi on the bus. It worked some of the time. I got a quick update on world news. A Malaysian jet was shot down over Ukraine. As I tried to absorb that tragedy, news came through that Israel had invaded the Gaza Strip. There's more savage executions in Iraq, not to mention kidnapped girls in Nigeria.

War and rumours of war. Death and destruction falling from the sky. Conflict, scandals, crises and turmoil. Based on the news, the world is in trouble. People are dying. We seem to be violent creatures with endlessly inventive ways to destroy each other. We managed to murder one hundred million of our fellow citizens on this earth in the last century; we're getting a good start in this one.

However, each one of us has a life to live. It is ours, and only ours. No one can live it for us, and we cannot live anyone else's life for them. It is up to us to find, build and live the best life we can. We cannot change the world, but we can change ourselves by being the best, the fittest and the healthiest we can be. Then we can take action, make a contribution, and make a difference instead of doing nothing because we think we can only do a little.

In that context, let's try to up our fitness performance this week - do an extra run, cycle or swim, and then think of improving our mental well-being as well.

The world knows when you're doing your best and when you do, it will make a difference to you and all those around you as well.

Health & Living

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