Alcohol forgotten factor in obesity crisis, says consultant

Doctor warns of the ‘great unspoken hazard of the bottle of wine in front of the telly’

An emergency medicine consultant says alcohol is the forgotten factor in Ireland’s obesity crisis.

Dr Chris Luke told Newstalk Breakfast that the country’s health service is “absolutely straining under the burden of our ailments such as alcohol related obesity and organ injury”.

He was responding as it emerged that Ireland is “not going to back off” on its commitment to implement strict alcohol legislation, despite opposition from 11 EU countries and the European Commission, according to Government sources.

The sources insist other countries are not addressing the issue with the speed that is required and “we will do what we have to do”.


The State will engage with other EU members on the issues they object to. France and Germany are among those objecting, deeming the legislation anti-competitive.

One of the most controversial provisions is the detailed compulsory labels on all alcoholic drinks stating calorie count, health warnings and alcohol levels.

Manufacturers importing alcohol into Ireland will have to include the labels on their products.

Dr Luke, a consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital, said: “Ireland has a particular problem with drink so we need particular local solutions. Laws being imposed unilaterally from Brussels just won’t wash.

“We really need to do something about our problem with drink. The fact that a glass of wine has the same calories as a doughnut - that has to be on the labels. Although there’s always cries of ‘nanny state’, the problem is the State’s capacity to provide health care is seriously under threat.

“After price and availability, information on the side of a tin or bottle is over looked by people. If we’re to stick with this idea that education is part of the problem then we have to provide information,” he said.

He said the “great unspoken hazard of the bottle of wine in front of the telly at night is that each glass is a doughnut. People are consuming the equivalent of three or four doughnuts while watching Top Gear”.

The Department of Health said it “is considering the issues raised in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General and will respond accordingly”.

It said: “The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill remains a priority for the Government. We are currently awaiting dates to progress the Bill in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

The Bill was introduced in the Seanad in December and passed the second, introductory stage before the general election.

Minimum unit pricing

Its provisions also include minimum unit pricing to prevent below-cost selling, strict separation of alcohol products from other items in shops, a ban on broadcasting advertisements before 9pm, restrictions on promotions and no advertising near schools or playgrounds.

The Bill had a very long gestation period before it was introduced in the Oireachtas, predominantly because of objections from the drinks industry.

Those protests have been mirrored in the opposition of EU states, which claim it would create trade barriers.

Fine Gael Dublin MEP Brian Hayes expressed concern at the delay in the passage of the Bill and that member states had to be able to react to ongoing health concerns in a determined and co-ordinated way.

“Health concerns and a proper response to Ireland’s binge drinking culture are best tackled at a local level irrespective of internal market concerns,” said Mr Hayes.

He said: “The Commission issuing warning shots against Ireland on this issue denies the principal of subsidiarity and hampers public policy making in Ireland. It sets a dangerous precedent and must be opposed.”

Minister of State Joe McHugh said space and time needed to be allowed for the new Government team dealing with the issue.

In January Ireland formally notified the Commission of its intention to introduce the legislation.

Nine EU states issued detailed opinions and the Commission and two other States issued comments. Ireland has until July 28th to respond.