Fitness to fore in Portlaoise for ‘Irish Times’ Healthy Town project

Town chosen for its sporting infrastructure, natural amenities and strong community

Wed, Sep 3, 2014, 01:00

He’s bound by the rules of political diplomacy when commenting on international disputes, but the Minister for Foreign Affairs doesn’t hold back when apportioning blame for his own poor health choices.

“I don’t believe fat is the enemy. I believe sugar is the enemy,” Charlie Flanagan said yesterday as he explained how he lost 3st, 7lbs over six months following a challenge from his daughters who were worried about his weight and health.

No one is too busy to take exercise, he said at the launch of the 2014 Pfizer/Irish Times Healthy Town project, which will centre on Portlaoise.

During his 63 days as junior minister with responsibility for children, he said he became particularly conscious of the serious problem of childhood obesity, and while not in favour of “the sledgehammer of a ban” on vending machines, said they should be filled with healthier choices, such as sparkling water.

Community support

The Irish Times Editor Kevin O’Sullivan said Portlaoise was chosen because of its sporting infrastructure, natural amenities and the strong community support for voluntary effort.

Past experience of the project in Kilkenny and Bray shows the Healthy Town project has lasting outcomes, he said, describing Mr Flanagan’s story as uplifting, and in the spirit of what the project is about.

It is an initiative with the ability to improve the health and wellbeing of a large community at relatively little cost, by showing that regardless of age, simple steps can improve a person’s mental and physical health, he said.

For the next eight weeks in Portlaoise there will be a rolling schedule of free fitness activities, nutritional advice and health checks, as well as talks on subjects such as stress management and healthy eating.

Support

This year the scheme is supported by Healthy Ireland, the national framework for action to improve the nation’s health.

Kate O’Flaherty, director of the Department of Health’s Health and Wellbeing Programme, said she hoped Portlaoise people will use their new experiences to build a healthier community.

She said the partnership approach which involves local sports, community and social groups, and combines public and private sectors, is critical to achieving their goals.

Pfizer’s managing director Paul Reid – who paid tribute to Barry O’Keeffe of The Irish Times for co-ordinating the Healthy Town project – said that while the company makes vaccines and medicines that help sick people or prevent them getting sick in the first place, they have a wider role.

Pfizer has identified “a responsibility and a duty to the community to help improve health above and beyond the benefit that our medicines deliver,” he said.

The Irish Times will feature Healthy Town events and activities in its weekly Health + Family supplement, and on a regularly updated microsite at irishtimes.com/healthytown.