Put calories on menus, ban food marketing to help solve obesity
We hear and read about obesity so much that our instinct is often to switch off. But we have to stop sticking our heads in the sand on this issue.
Some 26pc of men (that's more than one in every four) are now obese compared to eight per cent in 1990.
Female waistlines have also expanded dramatically, with 21pc of Irish women now classed as obese, up from 13pc two decades ago.
Overall, for every five people you see walking down the street, three of them are overweight or obese, which means the excess weight they are carrying will have an adverse effect on their health.
Professor Donal O'Shea, the country's leading obesity expert, is critical of the failure to put in place the recommendations of a government-commissioned report on obesity published back in 2005.
He suggests the following action points if we are to make any breakthroughs on the issue:
- Put easy, understandable labelling on food.
- Use easy, understandable calorie counts on menus.
- Educate from antenatal classes onwards about the importance of life-long weight awareness and calorie requirements.
- There should be primary care (outside hospital) and secondary care to weigh people routinely at all opportunities with feedback on where people are with regard to ideal weight.
- Ban marketing of nutritionally unhealthy food and drinks to children.
- Ban quick-fixes such as regimes replacing food with milkshakes and soups. These are known not to work in the long term and only perpetuate the cycle of disappointment and feeling of failure in a vulnerable patient group.
- Get the basics in place for treatment of the severe end of the problem.
Obesity rates among Irishmen have tripled in just 20 years, creating a health timebomb.
At the younger end of the spectrum, Irish children who are obese are facing a "third world" standard of health service, according to Prof O'Shea. He says services for children who are obese are not poor, "they are absent".
He told the Irish Independent that a group of experts reviewing services here was shocked at the deficiencies.
"I had to repeat on three occasions to clarify that 'absent' meant there is no publicly funded obesity service for children in Ireland. That is a third world statement.
"The Health Service Executive (HSE) has prioritised a paediatric service in its plan for 2011 -- but will it be funded? What is needed is that it is funded," he added.
As parents are the ones who do the household shopping, they have a crucial role to play in helping to keep their children's weight under control.
Prof O'Shea, of St Colmcille's and St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, suggests the following:
- Find out what your child weighs and what the ideal weight for your child is.
- Follow healthy eating guidelines.
- Eat at the table as a group with no TV on to distract.
- Teenagers in the US now drink more calories than they eat -- this is a problem because they are mostly empty calories in terms of nutritional benefit.
- Drink water or milk. Keep fizzy drinks for parties and special occasions (and ideally Sprite Zero or Diet Coke then).
- Get active with your kids -- they will see and do what you do, not just what you say.
Research on Irish teenagers by UCD and UCC showed that the prevalence of overweight children rose from six per cent to 19pc in boys and from 15pc to 17pc in girls.
One-third of teens spent more than two hours watching TV on weekdays and two-thirds watch TV for more than two hours at the weekend.
These stretches of inactivity may be linked to eating the wrong foods.
Teenagers with overweight or obese parents are more likely to be overweight or obese themselves.
Parents of overweight teenagers generally thought that their children's weight was fine and normal.
"As the childhood impulse to imitate is strong, parental influence on dietary habits and lifestyle is important," said the authors.
Health & Living