Relentless rise in childhood obesity must be tackled
Opinion: shocking obesity rates point to need for integrated approach to problem
“People in the developed world should not die because of bad nutrition. Obesity is a time bomb we can defuse.” Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
It is a shocking admission: we stand to be the first generation who will bury our children. Many members of Irish families will die prematurely due to obesity. The problem is growing at an alarming rate, affecting children as young as two and three years of age.
A severely obese person is likely to die eight to 10 years earlier than a person of normal weight. According to Prof Ivan Perry of UCC, more than 1,000 people die each year from heart disease and strokes because of what and how they eat and because of lack of exercise. People in the developed world should not die because of bad nutrition. Obesity is a time bomb we can defuse.
In 2007, 37 per cent of Irish adults were overweight and a further 24 per cent obese. The rates of obesity and overweight have increased in the past 20 years and continue to grow. Up to 80,000 people in Ireland are now morbidly obese, according to consultant endocrinologist, Dr Francis Finucane, who specialises in treating obesity.
Even more shockingly, the Growing Up In Ireland study showed that almost 20 per cent of nine-year-olds were overweight in 2011 and a further 7 per cent obese. Ireland’s only dedicated childhood obesity treatment programme has had a 400 per cent increase in just one year in referrals of children under five years of age.
Today, Ireland is ranked fifth-highest among 27 EU countries in incidence of childhood obesity. The long- lasting impact of early childhood obesity should not be underestimated. Health as an adult is hugely influenced by nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life. Indeed a mother’s diet during pregnancy affect a child’s birth weight and also on the child’s propensity to become obese in later life.
According to a report funded by Safe Food, carried out by UCC department of epidemiology and public health in 2012, the annual cost of obesity to the exchequer is €1.13 billion. It is estimated overweight and obesity account for 2.7 per cent of total health spending. As a result of the obesity epidemic, we are storing up a diabetes epidemic for the future.
At last a whole-of- Government approach involving departments of education, environment, justice and finance has been put in place to help formulate policy to tackle obesity. Many factors contribute to obesity, including genetics, biology, environmental and economic influences. In economic terms, for example, a cut in the prices of foods likely to increase weight contributes to obesity. More intense advertising for unhealthy food aimed at children is also a factor. Cutting down on salt, sugars and fats in processed food would cut the death rate dramatically.