Obesity in Irish men increasing at ‘alarming’ rate

Seventy per cent of Irish males are now overweight compared with 52% of females

Damian Timoney, before (L) and after (R) Weight Watchers

Ireland has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, with one in four adults now classed as obese and one in four children already overweight.

And it seems that men are more likely to have weight problems than women, with 70 per cent of Irish males tipping the scales at an unhealthy weight, compared to 52 per cent of females.

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan, medical director of Safefood, says the speed with which obesity is rising amongst men is most alarming. "The rate of increase has trebled within the past 15 years and this is very worrying," she says. "Women are not doing great either, as it has doubled for them, but the reason obesity amongst men seems to be on the rise is because they tend not to go on diets or be as aware of their size as women are. Whether that is to do with the type of clothing they wear or the fact that being overweight is more acceptable amongst men is not clear.

“But central obesity [excessive weight around the abdomen] is very common in men and it is extremely damaging to their health. And many do nothing about it until they suddenly find out that they have an illness – so they need to start taking steps to change this, fast.”


I would encourage men to cut down on their red meat intake – three times a week is more than enough

Sarah Noone, dietitian with the Irish Heart Foundation, says research shows that being overweight or obese can raise blood cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“These issues are risk factors for heart disease, so if you are overweight or obese you are more likely to develop heart disease than someone who is a healthy weight,” she says. “But even if you don’t have any of these conditions, it’s important to keep to a healthy weight so you don’t develop them in future.”


Dr Foley Nolan says men should try to do something, no matter how small, to have an impact on their waistline. “The first step in weight loss is to try not to gain any more,” she says. “Men need to stabilise their weight and then think about trying to lose a few pounds. First and foremost seems to be portion size. Men need just one-fifth more calories than women so they need to think about that when putting food on their plates. They also need to start eating more fruit and vegetables and cut out the fry-up. This is not doing them any favours and should be kept as a treat for one day in the week, at the most.

“I would also encourage them to cut down on their red meat intake – three times a week is more than enough – and they should avoid highly calorific takeaways and reduce the amount of alcohol they consume, as it contains a high amount of calories. So stick with or, ideally, under the recommended 14 units a week.”

Damian Timoney from Donegal Town can relate to Dr Foley Nolan's advice. For many years his diet contained plenty of takeaways and junk food, which saw his weight shoot up from 10.5 stone (66.6kg) to 17 stone (107.9kg) in one year.

Damian Timoney, before: “I was diagnosed with bipolar depression and my weight rocketed by almost seven stone due to the medication I was on.”

He was just 25 when he made this sudden, extremely unhealthy weight gain, and he carried it around with him for almost two decades. But after several attempts, which saw him lose some weight but quickly put it back on again, he decided to get some help in the form of a slimming class.

“I was diagnosed with bipolar depression when I was 25 and my weight rocketed by almost seven stone in a year due to the medication I was on,” says the 46-year-old, who works part-time in a bar/restaurant and is carer to his elderly parents.

“Of course my diet also had a lot to do with the huge weight gain as I was eating a lot of takeaway food as well as crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. I wasn’t in a relationship for 20 years – which was all the time I was overweight – due to lack of confidence. Then about seven years ago, I tried to lose some weight before a holiday to see my twin brother and my sister in New York.

“But although I did lose some, needless to say what I lost, I gained again – and more with it.”

Weight loss group

Frustrated and depressed with his size, the Donegal man finally made the decision to go to a weight loss group and, with the support of others, managed to reach his goal weight in less than two years. And not only has he managed to maintain this loss but has also shed a few more pounds.

“In May 2015 a friend persuaded me to go to Weight Watchers and I can honestly say it was the best move I ever made,” he says. “On average I was losing three to four pounds a week from the beginning and even after a few blips I reached my goal weight of 12st 8lb [80kg] just before Christmas 2017. I have been able to maintain this and even lost some more – so I now weigh 12st 4lbs [78.2kg] and have never felt better.

“I was taken off cholesterol medication as my levels improved and after I lost four stone. I would advise anyone who is carrying extra weight to think about going down the same route as they won’t regret it. I also learned about food and diet and a healthier way of looking at how I eat and what exercise I do. Although I started walking at a snail’s pace, it still worked and now I go so fast that no one passes me out. All it takes [to lose weight] is to move a bit more, drink more water and cut out snacking at night which was my big downfall.”

Damian Timoney, after: “A friend persuaded me to go to Weight Watchers and I can honestly say it was the best move I ever made.”

Dr Foley Nolan says by learning how to cook well, men could make a big difference to their weight.

“Cooking skills and organised shopping are crucial when it comes to getting rid of excess weight,” she says. “By taking control of what you are eating, you will be much more aware of how many calories are in it – and can actually add a knob of butter rather than perhaps the half pound that might be in a ready-made version.

“It is a sad fact that we all know a lot more grannies than grandads because men are dying earlier, but by taking a step today to change their diets and lose weight, they could be around for their grandchildren a lot longer.”