As Ireland pushes its first National Physical Activity Plan, Adam Shaw looks at obesity and the Irish
Ireland has launched its first ever National Physical Activity Plan in a bid to tackle obesity and inactivity.
It comes as official figures show Irish kids are, on average, much fatter than the rest of Continental Europe while those members of the diaspora who enjoy a traditional Irish diet are equally at risk of obesity and Type-2 diabetes.
Approximately €5.5 million is to be spent on the scheme, as Ireland’s Health Minister Leo Varadkar says the government wants to increase the number of Irish people taking regular exercise.
Mr Varadkar, who qualified as a medical doctor and regularly takes part in physical challenges like Tough Mudder, said seven in ten Irish adults do not complete the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week.
He said: “We often focus on the day-to-day problems in health, but we will never get on top of any of these if we don’t improve our health as individuals. “Being healthy starts with personal responsibility, but the Government also has a role to play.”
He hopes the number of active individuals will increase by 50,000 a year over the next decade. The new plan also targets schools, since just 19 per cent of primary school students and 12 per cent of secondary school students get enough weekly exercise. It includes an extension to the Active School Flag programme, with 500 schools set to benefit, as well as the promotion of healthy living in PE lessons.
The proposals come in light of research into Irish weight problems, including overweight children, costs to the healthcare system and the correlation between obesity and lower-back pain. The annual cost of obesity in adults in Ireland amounts to €1.13bn, while the World Health Organisation predicts the country will become Europe’s most obese nation by 2030.
Mr Varadkar believes Irish children are more overweight than their European counterparts and noted that childhood obesity tracks into adulthood. A study on health problems associated with weight issues found that lower-back pain, as a result of obesity, was the biggest cause of absenteeism in Ireland.
This in turn leads to further inactivity, as well as a loss of productivity, which links to other problems such as heart disease, type II diabetes and various cancers.
The issue extends to Irish people around the world, with expats suffering from obesity due to culture and a typically “Irish” diet.
A study entitled ‘Dietary habits of the Irish population’ found that Irish people consumed 7.3 daily servings of fat, when the recommendation is fewer than three. It also noted that just 14 per cent of people surveyed complied with the guidelines regarding sugar intake, while 80 per cent ignored the advice concerning dairy products.
The charity Irish in Britain appreciates the vicious cycle of bad eating habits and lack of exercise.
“There is evidence of significant inactivity due to poor health among Irish people in Britain,” it said. This is something that contributes to a high level of deaths related to obesity. It added: “There is also clear evidence of excess and, in some cases, increasing, mortality among Irish men and women from coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke.”
To prevent these health issues, the body suggested increasing exercise levels and that a healthy lifestyle is important for one’s mental and physical wellbeing.
It stated that local authorities and Irish services have several activities in place, which can aid healthy living.