Thursday 23 January 2020

Why are we getting so offended by an article that says the health minister is overweight?

Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly with Dr Eva Or
Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly with Dr Eva Or

Fionnuala McCarthy

Niamh Horan’s article from yesterday’s Sunday Independent has enraged many people – and I don’t get why.

The opinion piece has attracted huge comments on this website and been shared countless times on social media.

To recap, Niamh Horan wrote that as Minister for Health James Reilly is not really leading by example when it comes to health matters, given his waistline.

She talks about the government’s missed opportunity for putting a tax on junk food in the budget last week, and writes about her personal struggle to keep her eye on her own weight through exercising and diet.

Yet commentators accuse Niamh Horan of being superficial; a body fascist, and say the article is all part of “the PC agenda and the curtailment of personal freedom”.

She’s being attacked for everything, from her hair colour to the fact that she is wearing “all fur coat...” She’s even told to go and have a snack box and chill.    

And many weight in on the debate offering reasons why people are struggling with weight issues .

Andrew Lally says people are overweight as “they don’t have time to exercise given long commutes,” and Joseph O’Connor maintains: “Any real people and families use fast food. It is a budgetary thing and part of our modern way of life.”

And one long comment argues, “It is equally an attack on all those overweight members of our society who have been trying without success to lose weight over the past number of years, many of whom suffer with depression consequent of their failure in this department.”

I know there are many reasons why people struggle with weight, but this article is not about random overweight people in society. It is about our Minister for Health, a man who is a qualified GP and has every resource at his fingertips to help him become a healthy weight.

When you see an overweight Minister for Health at the launch of Dr Eva Orsmond’s Operation Transformation book, you can’t but help raise an eyebrow.

Equally when an overweight Minister for Health launches a special action group to look at the issue of obesity in Ireland, you wonder what he has to say himself on the subject.

But as Niamh Horan says there is an elephant in the room, and we are all tip toeing around the fact that this Minister for Health is, like his predecessor,  carrying an unhealthy amount of weight – for whatever reasons - and he can launch all the action groups he wants, but what we would like to hear is his own thoughts.

If James Reilly were to come clean about his weight, as other TDs did on Operation Transformation, it would help countless other people who could identify and hopefully embark on a weight loss regime inspired by him.

But until then it is a case of do as I say, not as I do, when it comes to our Minister for Health.

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