Monday 19 February 2018

Rude health: The Irish man index

Obesity Congress says Irish men aren't 'beach body ready', says Maurice Gueret, so do we need our own BMI?

Ireland awoke to the plump news this month that we are about to become the most corpulent nation in Europe. A recent Congress on Obesity held in Prague heard that Irish men proudly lead the entire continent in gold-medal position, with nine out of every 10 of us expected to be overweight by 2030. Our ladies are not far behind. They secured bronze, behind cider-drinking Bulgarians and chocoholic Belgians. Only the Dutch seem to emerge well from this survey. Must be hard work cycling to work in a headwind wearing nothing but clogs. But to be serious for a minute, somewhat lost beneath the headlines was the fact that this was a forecasting exercise. The World Health Organisation spokesperson urges interpretation of these figures with extreme caution. More Guessing Games than Hunger Games.


So what can be done about a nation that marches on a wobbly belly? Dr Leo wants us to tog out in Lycra pants, and go jogging with him at weekends. The Fianna Fail spokesman (nobody ever remembers his name) has been waffling recently about putting taxes on sugar. I have a neater solution. Ireland should campaign to have the goalposts narrowed. The way we measure people, the BMI index, uses an old mathematical formula that only includes height and weight. This method was invented in the 19th Century by a Belgian crime statistician. His name was Adolphe Quetelet and he focused much of his work on what makes up the average man. Well I maintain that we have never been average men in Ireland. Our chests are broader than those of Mediterranean skinnies and our waistbands need to be wider to hold in two vests, one shirt, a woolly waistcoat and a pullover. Ever-present rain makes it very hard to walk the dog for a full hour each day. And on sunny days, we also have to cut the walks short to combat a national tendency towards overheating and to prevent cancer on red skin. The IMI, or Irish Man Index, urgently needs to be invented.


I was in London this month for the birth of the royal princess. The events probably weren't connected in any way. But I did pass through Paddington hours before baby Charlotte was born at St Mary's Hospital. My digs were close to Kensington Palace, where mother and child went to recuperate just hours after the event. The midwives coped admirably and didn't see the need to call me. There was genuine delight around the city and a feelgood factor helped by the fact that so many taxis were able to change their flashing signs to read: 'it's a girl'. It was at moments like this that an Irish person would really miss that royal connection. It has been far too long since we had a home-birth or even an ambulance up at Aras an Uachtaran. And there won't be too many in the future if we continue to insist that Presidents are pensioners in office.


The term 'beach body' was big news in the British capital during my confinement. Prominent at many underground stations were large advertisements for so-called weight-loss supplements. They featured a very thin model in a stringy yellow bikini and the tag line was, "Are You Beach Body Ready?" Well Londoners didn't take this sort of advert lying down. The posters attracted plenty of graffiti and a protest was called for Hyde Park where 100 formidable-looking demonstrators turned up in swimwear to show a much wider array of acceptable beach bodies. Concerns were expressed about how children might react to this sort of marketing and the Advertising Standards Authority was quick to brand it as "offensive, irresponsible and harmful because it promotes an unhealthy body image". No city in the world does polite democracy quite like London.


Some of your interesting observations about medical waiting rooms have started to arrive. One reader lived in Wales over a decade ago. Her local GP, a surly Welshman but a good doctor, had a waiting room with a television. It played some cartoons and scrolled the same advertisements again and again. She found the advertisement for the local funeral director more than a little unnerving. Another reader recalls regular visits to the GP as a child many years ago. He was a large man with snow-white hair and glasses. The waiting room consisted of a bench, on which you would shuffle up as patients left it. The nearer you got to the door, the closer your consultation was. The only noise to emanate from the surgery was the loud bang of a single prescription stamp. If there were a few bangs in succession, it meant the doctor had temporarily stopped surgery to fill in a few repeat prescriptions.


A dental receptionist has been in touch with an insider's views of waiting rooms. She tells me that her practice, which caters for children mainly, is not allowed to have magazines or books because of 'infection control'. All healthy-living posters on the walls are laminated for the same reason. The only toys that are allowed are those that can be rubbed down with a wipe after work each day. A DVD machine plays cartoons in the waiting room and apparently the volume on said machine can be adjusted if any cries or screams emanating from the surgery need to be drowned out! She says that today's children are much happier about dental visits than in bygone days, but wonders if there is too much fussing about hygiene and whether children will grow up having no immunity to anything. Took the words right out of my mouth. Rinse, please.

Dr Maurice Gueret is

editor of the

'Irish Medical Directory'

Sunday Independent

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