Obesity in Ireland ‘worse than HIV/AIDS in the 1980s’

Ireland set to be the most obese country in Europe by 2030, WHO says

Prof Donal O’Shea said Government must  take immediate action to stop rising obesity levels. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Prof Donal O’Shea said Government must take immediate action to stop rising obesity levels. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


Obesity in Ireland is a worse crisis than HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and cholera in the 1800s, one of the country’s leading health experts has said.

Prof Dónal O’Shea, one of the State’s foremost endocrinologists and co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) obesity policy group, spoke following the latest figures released from WHO showing Ireland is set to become to most obese country in Europe by 2030.

“We have just an environment of unregulated, I would say, poisoning of our kids, especially in the lower socio-economic groups with high fat, high salt and high sugar foods. You’ve got the perfect storm.” he said.

“If these WHO figures are even half correct, it’s an unthinkable scenario.

“(Obesity)... is a much bigger health crisis than what cholera was back in the 1800s and HIV/AIDS was back in the 80s and 90s,” he said.

The new figures predict 89 per cent of Irish men will be overweight or obese by 2030, putting them at the top of an “overweight” table of 53 countries.

In the same category, Irish women are predicted to reach 85 per cent.

Predictions for increases in obesity alone show a large rise for women from 23 per cent to 57 per cent. The number of obese Irish men was expected to increase from 26 per cent to 48 per cent.

A body mass index (BMI), calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres, of more than 25 is classified as overweight. A BMI of more than 30 is classed as obese.

The researchers of the study were due to present their data at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague on Wednesday.

Prof O’Shea told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that Ireland’s figures were probably the most accurate in the study as they were based on measured data.

“We have a particular environment where physical activity has gone off a cliff edge, particularly for adolescents and adolescent girls,” he said.

“If obesity was purely a physical appearance problem then it wouldn’t be an issue.

“But obesity is already driving a diabetes epidemic, a cancer epidemic, a heart disease epidemic that frankly within the Health Service we’re currently not coping with.”

Prof O’Shea said there have never been more “super-fit” people in the State but it was still a small percentage overall.

“We’ve never had a population where we’ve had more super-fit people,” he said.

“It’s a small percentage, 15 to 20 per cent are super-fit, 80 per cent are inactive or overweight.

“The behaviour that has lead to obesity and the physical appearance of obesity has become the norm.”

Prof O’Shea said the must take immediate action to stop rising obesity levels.

“We’re on course to be the fattest country in Europe by 2030, we must pay attention and we must take action,” he said.

“We need to healthy Ireland framework aggressively rolled out.”