Saturday 24 August 2019

'We are headed towards a perfect storm' - Prof Donal O'Shea on Ireland's obesity epidemic

Professor Donal O'Shea on the Real Health podcast
Professor Donal O'Shea on the Real Health podcast
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

The lack of treatment available to tackle childhood obesity could mean we are headed towards a future of extreme ‘health inequality’.

Speaking on the Real Health Podcast, Professor Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s Clinical Lead on Obesity, said treatment for childhood obesity is practically absent in Ireland.

This omission of treatments will inevitable create ‘a perfect storm of ill health’ in the future, he said.

Roughly 25pc of children in Ireland are obese.

But according to Dr O’Shea, this number disguises a much more worrying trend - the emergence of a pronounced social economic health divide.

“The levelling off disguises a continued rise in [obesity] in the less well off sections of society, and a fall in the better off, better educated section of society.

“And that degree of socio economic separation for me is a huge threat in the future for health in Ireland because you are growing a health inequality that starts at the age of three”.

Around 12pc of three year olds in poorer socio-economic sections of society are obese, compared to 3pc of there year olds in ‘better off, better educated’ sections of society.

He said that those from poorer socio economic background are more likely to suffer from obesity in adulthood, and are “a group of individuals who are less likely to come forward for health care …or participate in screening programmes" later in life.

Dr O’Shea says this will eventually result in ‘a perfect storm of ill health’.

He also spoke about the HSE's plans to bring in new forms of medication to help reduce obesity.

Over 62pc of the population in Ireland are obese or overweight.

“The evidence is continuing to accumulate, being overweight and obese are now clearly linked to over 200 chronic medical conditions,” he said.

He said we have often focused on the treatment of the conditions of obesity, rather than the issue of obesity itself.

He also said that advice to simply ‘eat less and move more’ is completely ineffectual if someone is obese.

“That’s like telling a person with lung cancer that your treatment is to stop smoking.”

In the next fifteen years, treatment will change considerably.

“What we will have in the next 15 - 20 years is medication that will let people lose 25pc of their starting body weight,” he said.

“We will have medication that will work to deliver results that are equivalent to surgery and that is incredibly exciting.”

He said this medication will be a mix of appetite suppressants, and medication that makes individuals feel fuller, and boosts their metabolism.

For more episodes of Karl Henry's 'Real Health' podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, go to:

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The Real Health podcast is in association with Laya Healthcare.

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