Monday 16 September 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'Stark report must be a wake-up call on our poor lifestyles'


Persuasion: Messages on prevention by the likes of Health Minister Simon Harris are being ignored by large swathes of the population. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Persuasion: Messages on prevention by the likes of Health Minister Simon Harris are being ignored by large swathes of the population. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The rate of new cancers diagnosed in Ireland this year may be the second highest in the EU - although it is important to also highlight more people are surviving the disease.

Obesity has taken over, where a fall in smoking has left off, as one of the risks.

But as we get older as a nation, so too will our cancer rates.

The OECD says that three million people in the EU will be told they have the disease in 2018.

In Ireland, around 40,570 new patients will be informed they have cancer, and the risk is slightly higher for men than women.

We cannot help the inevitable rise in odds of developing cancer as we age.

But clearly we must do more to reduce the danger by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, protecting ourselves from the sun and drinking less alcohol.

However, given the results of the recent Healthy Ireland survey, the prevention messages are being ignored by large swathes of the population.

It might take the impact of a report like this, showing Ireland so high on the cancer league table, to persuade more to change their ways.

The report also sounded a warning about a slowdown in the rate of increase in life expectancy.

We have been celebrating the increase in people living well past pension age in this country compared to their grandparents .

The number of over-65s is rising by 20,000 a year.

But in countries like France, the improvements in lifespan are tapering off.

Life expectancy for men and women went up by less than a year for those born between 2011 and 2016 in the UK, Germany and Italy.

Life expectancy across the EU averages at 81 years and is not increasing in western Europe as fast as it was.

Obesity and unhealthy lifestyles have again been blamed.

Women in the EU live on average five-and-a-half years longer than European men. The gap between the sexes is continuing to narrow.

Although women live longer, the gap in "disability-free years" between men and women in the EU is narrow at 81pc and 77pc.

Men in the EU are 80pc more at risk of dying from heart disease than women due to their smoking and eating habits.

There has also been a slowing in heart disease-related deaths over five years.

It continues to be the leading cause of death accounting for 1.9 million deaths in the EU in 2015.

Interestingly, the report says that changing trends in life expectancy could also be influenced by the increase in the number of elderly people dying from flu since 2010.


The report also stresses the need to improve people's mental health and said this needs to be a Europe-wide priority.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of reported mental illness in the EU, but this could partly be due to the work of recent years in helping to de-stigmatise the problem, encouraging more people to come forward for help.

Across the EU in 2015, there were 84,000 deaths due to mental illness or suicide.

Depressive disorders affect 21 million people.

The report has not just one, but several "wake-up" calls in its findings.

However , the concern is that in five years' time the picture of health it captures will not just have changed, but deteriorated unless warnings are heeded.

The impact of obesity and lifestyle habits, in particular, on cancer rates and life expectancy, is clear.

It has gone beyond a threat and is a present danger.

Irish Independent

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