Obesity is out of control in Ireland

June 2014
 by Gabriel MacSharry
Ireland is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. According to a new Lancet study 51% of Irish women and 66% of Irish men are either overweight or obese!

51% of Irish women and 66% of Irish men either overweight or obese


Look around the room right now, every second person you can see is overweight or obese. This very shocking revelation comes to us for the most recent research in the area published in The Lancet (Ng, M et al; May 2014 online version)

In my opinion the signs were on the wall for a long time regarding obesity. Since 2009 when the “Growing up In Ireland National Longitudinal Study” was published – we’ve known that one-in-four Irish children are obese or overweight. This is a shocking statistic.

There were a greater number of larger-sized Holy Communion outfits this year -highlighting again Ireland’s obesity problem in children. A growing number of eight year olds need teenage sizes as they are too fat for clothes in their own age group. It is estimated that the number of overweight children in Ireland has trebled in the last decade, with more than 300,000 children now overweight or obese. A recent study carried out in Co Mayo measured the prevalence of obesity in 3,482 children. Overall, 27 per cent were classified as overweight or obese, with more girls (31 per cent) than boys (23 per cent) affected.

One of the biggest problems for parents is recognising what a healthy weight is for their child. According to Prof Mary Rudolf, a paediatrician who advises the UK government on childhood obesity, the ribs of a 10 year old should be clearly visible or the child is overweight. Parents may find that hard to believe, but we have got so used to seeing fat children that we don’t know what is normal any more.

What is the Cause?

Obesity has clearly become a global problem now affecting more that every second man, woman and child in the country. There are several more or less obvious reasons for the dramatic rise in obesity since the 1970’s, including:

  • Increased consumption of sugar
  • Increased consumption of highly processed food, especially fructose
  • Increased portion sizes of restaurant food and grocery products
  • Increased driving and computer and TV use (sedentary activities)
  • Increased modernization
  • Certain medications
  • Endocrine disorders and genetics
  • Changing social perceptions of what is "normal" weight

Regardless of the cause, or combination of causes, the solution remains the same. It all boils down to the diet and lifestyle choices you make. And don’t fall into the trap of blaming your genes. Science has already debunked the "bad genes" theory, showing that good nutrition can overcome this predisposition.

A number of studies have demonstrated links between obesity and a whole host of serious medical conditions, such as: Depression, Gastro esophageal reflux, Sleep apnea, Gout, Osteoarthritis, Gallbladder disease, Kidney disease, Diabetes, High blood pressure, Coronary artery disease, Heart failure, Stroke, Blood clots, Dementia and Numerous cancers.

How to reverse the epidemic?

In general this is a multifactorial approach which is impossible to condense into this column, but there are a few key points in my opinion.

We must abandon the “low fat” hypothesis – avoiding healthy fats push people towards nutrient devoid and unhealthy food sources for their caloric intake. Generally people will overeat on sugars and processed carbohydrates to satisfy hunger and food cravings, resulting from low fat dieting.

We must also abandon the low calorie diction. “A calorie is a calorie is a calorie”. At a basic level we should consume roughly the same amount of energy(calories) per day that we use in living that day but in general living your life by counting calories is not the way forward, its a complex process that will confuse you and set you up to fail.

Its also a flawed assumption to treat all calories as equal regardless of the source. For example:

A Danish pastry is not the same as a Cesar salad on a nutritional level but may have equal calories, A can of coke is not the same on a nutritional level as a vegetable omelette but it may have the same amount of calories. Its obvious this system is flawed however there is a big financial interest in keeping this system alive.

The Weightwatchers group who are a strong advocate of counting calories, regardless of where they come from, entered into a contract in New Zealand with McDonalds fast food chain to serve “Weightwatchers compliant” meals that meet the caloric limit. This is the type of misguided and flawed practice that adds to the current obesity epidemic in my opinion. We need to learn the difference between healthy food and empty calorie, nutrient-devoid processed foods if we want to turn around the obesity epidemic in this country.

Contact the clinic on 0719142940 for more information

Source: Ng, M et al; The Lancet online version May 2014

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