The Irish Times view on obesity: a burgeoning crisis

Ireland has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe

New research conducted by the World Health Organisation shows that in 2016, almost one in three women and 23 per cent of men worldwide were not attaining recommended healthy levels of physical activity. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

New research conducted by the World Health Organisation shows that in 2016, almost one in three women and 23 per cent of men worldwide were not attaining recommended healthy levels of physical activity. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

The wave of obesity sweeping across the developed world shows no signs of abating. Ireland has one of the highest rates in Europe, with one in four adults now classed as obese and one in four children overweight.

Exercise and food portion control are key elements in maintaining a healthy weight. However, new research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in 2016 almost one in three women and 23 per cent of men worldwide were not attaining recommended healthy levels of physical activity. High-income Western countries had the greatest increase in the share of people taking insufficient exercise.

The findings suggest that a third of Irish adults do not get enough exercise - defined as at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. A significant gender gap is also evident, with 28 per cent of men here overly inactive compared with 37 per cent of women. Globally, there has been little progress in improving physical activity levels between 2001 and 2016. The WHO warns that if current trends continue, the global target of reducing sedentary lifestyle by 10 per cent by 2025 will not be met.

Although the research pinpoints Irish women as less exercise compliant than Irish men, more males than females in Ireland are overweight. According to Safefood, this is because men tend not to go on diets or be as aware of their size as women are. Imbuing healthy eating and exercise habits in young people is essential if we are to reverse future obesity trends. The challenge, however, is significant: research published last year in The Lancet found a tenfold increase in the rate of obesity among Irish boys between 1975 and 2016, and a ninefold increase among Irish girls.

A multipronged approach is essential to tackling the obesity crisis.The recent tax on sugar sweetened drinks is a step in the right direction, as is the EU funded ‘Food Dudes’ programme, which promotes healthy eating in Irish schools. But we need an unrelenting focus on renewed and innovative education campaigns and prevention strategies if we are to stem the obesity tide.

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