Lack of exercise costs taxpayer €1.8bn a year


LACK OF exercise is costing the taxpayer up to €1.8 billion a year in additional health costs, a conference on obesity has heard.

The estimate was arrived at by the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) based on the number of Irish people not taking exercise and UK research showing the financial impact of such unhealthy practice.

Dr Muireann Cullen, manager of the foundation, told the conference that the solution to the problem of obesity was for people to eat and exercise sensibly and to use up the energy they consume.

“We find that if people turn such healthy eating and exercise habits into a complete misery, they soon go back to bad old ways. The trick is to eat healthily, have fun exercising with children, family and friends and just enjoy life in a more sensible way.” The foundation is a food industry-funded initiative to promote information about diet physical activity and healthy lifestyles.

Prof John Nolan, a consultant endocrinologist at St James’s Hospital, said the “blame game” was no help in explaining the cause of obesity. It was too simplistic to say the food industry or a single cause was at the root of the problem.

Irish food was very good, he said, but the problem arose in how we consumed it. Our approaches to diet were terrible and our overall high-stress, sedentary lifestyle was very unhealthy.

He described the 2005 National Taskforce on Obesity report as a flop and said only 5 per cent of the resources needed to tackle the problem were in place.

However, Brian Mullen of the Department of Health said government departments had been “chipping away” at the report’s recommendations. Progress in implementing these findings had been patchy and “not as we have liked”, but overall significant progress had been made on one-third of the recommendations and only 9 per cent showed no progress.

Mr Mullen said the difficult budgetary position would inevitably slow progress and it would also present opportunities. People were more likely to cook at home and might take more exercise.

Maria Lordon Murphy of the HSE said it was not fair to say the obesity taskforce had flopped.

Prof Arne Astrup from the University of Copenhagen said people with a high intake of dairy products were less likely to become obese. It was not clear why this was so, but he suggested it may be that an increase in dietary calcium intake causes them to excrete more quickly.