Jacky Jones: Are the experts ever going to stop warning us about obesity?

Ireland was not even mentioned in the ‘Lancet’ obesity report

More Irish people are a healthy weight now than eight years ago. Photograph: Thinkstock

More Irish people are a healthy weight now than eight years ago. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Obesity is in the news again. The latest global report on obesity trends in 200 countries from 1974 to 2014 was published in the Lancet in early April. The authors noted that: “If post-2000 trends continue, the probability of meeting the global obesity target [keeping rates at 2010 levels] is virtually zero.” Health experts were interviewed on RTÉ radio and television claiming that “Ireland is on course to be the fattest country in Europe by 2025”.

Where do these people get their “facts”? Ireland was not even mentioned in the Lancet report. Obesity rates were listed for several European countries, including the UK, France and Italy, but Ireland was not one of them.

Irish figures are available only from the NCD (non-communicable diseases) Risk Factor Collaboration database in Imperial College, London, where the researchers are based. These show no change in obesity figures for Ireland from 2007 to 2014. This is not surprising because there have been no population health studies since the banking collapse. The country couldn’t afford it. The last study was carried out in 2007.

The obesity situation has improved since then and to keep repeating that we are the fattest in Europe is unhelpful.

Healthy weight

Department of Health

Independently measured body mass indices (BMIs) were used in both Irish studies so the figures are statistically robust. In addition, the 2015 European Health Report from the World Health Organisation notes that, weight-wise, Ireland is healthier than many Mediterranean countries.

So do we believe a government-funded survey or so-called obesity experts who continue to repeat the same tired old, wrong, message? And why do RTÉ radio and television keep interviewing doctors and dietitians who are not up to date with current research?

In fairness to the authors of the Lancet paper, they did not have access to the 2015 Irish figures. Nor was their paper designed to be a stick to beat countries with. It is a trends paper. Its main message is about overall obesity rates in a global context.

Ireland is doing remarkably well in spite of the efforts of the food industry to sell us as much energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods as possible.

The experts rolled out by RTÉ must know about the most recent research but for some reason they ignore it. It would be more helpful if the experts said Irish people are making changes instead of repeating the mantra that we are the fattest in Europe.

Although overweight and obesity rates are going in the right direction, there is no room for complacency. People’s health cannot be left to the food and drinks industry.

Research in the UK shows products such as soup, cheese and ready-to-eat meals now contain up to 186 per cent more salt than 10 years ago despite industry commitments to lower levels. Research by Safefood shows the number of high-sugar, energy drinks has quadrupled in the past 10 years. The food industry will not act in the interests of population health so they must be forced by legislation to produce healthier products.

According to the Lancet report, “present interventions and policies have not been able to stop the rise in obesity in most countries” and “there needs to be a new look at policies that could slow down and stop the worldwide increase in BMI. To avoid an epidemic of severe obesity, the next step must be to implement these policies.”

In Ireland, the next government must immediately introduce a sugar tax. In addition, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) must be mandated to set targets for the levels of salt, fat and sugar in our food.

At present, the food industry regulates itself in relation to these substances and consumers have to read the labels and decide for themselves. This must change.

And in future can the media please interview obesity experts who actually know what they are talking about? drjackyjones@gmail.com Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion and a member of Healthy Ireland Council.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.