Our fat crisis could become of elephantine proportions

May 25th, 2015 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team


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We're a nation of fatties. And that's official! According to the World Health Organisation, Ireland has all the signs of becoming a European leader in obesity.

WE’RE a nation of fatties. And that’s official!

According to the World Health Organisation, Ireland has all the signs of becoming a European leader in obesity. And, the experts say that by 2030 the fat crisis will be of elephantine proportions.

Predictions indicate that 89% of men and 85% of women in Ireland will be either overweight or obese. Already the Irish top the list in flabbiness, and according to an expert at St Vincent’s Hospital if we don’t cop ourselves on we’re in for a fate worse than anything Aids or Cholera can throw at us.

Indeed, we need to see fatness as something one can catch and therefore to be avoided. Or, as a chubby man once told us ‘Obesity now is widespread and a fat accompli’ (geddit?). Okay, okay, we know we shouldn’t laugh at the predicament of others, and we’re certainly aware that the many reports on podginess that thump on our desk are a grim reminder of what’s in store.

But not for Yours Truly! Oh no! This scribe is the proud possessor of broad shoulders, a slender waistline, biceps so defined you can see them through the gansey and, of course, we have the sixpack. With such a lean, fit corpus that matches the Classical Greek ideal, it’s exceedingly difficult not to crack a joke at the fat guy’s expanse. (Careful! Ed).

Chewing the fat

Sorry about that! To paraphrase another report (that of Trinity College), four out of five of the over-50s in Ireland are ‘morbidly obese’. Within that context, blubber can hardly be a topic for wisecracks.

Even the University of Washington – and the Yanks are no shrinking violets when it comes to the avoirdupois – drew attention to the bodily-property problem in this country. They say that 26.5pc of Irish girls and 16pc of Irish boys under the age of 20 can be classed as overweight or obese.

Professor Donal O’Shea, co-chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity, warned that the HSE was struggling with the problem and with the damage it was doing to children’s lives.

‘Reduce the sugar intake in children and you will lower the impact on the child’s weight,’ he said. Sugar is addictive in the same way alcohol is addictive. The same parts of the brain that light up with alcohol light up with sugary drinks.’ (Wow! And this scribe thought that the only way one could improve a glass of Tanora was to put a dollop of Powers in it!).

Professor O’Shea pulled no punches when he condemned the environment of high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar foods that surrounds our kids, especially in the lower socio-economic groups.

Forthright too was senior physiotherapist, Grace O’Malley, who warned that the health implications of obesity among children included hip, knee and back pain, breathlessness, risk of asthma, high cholesterol and high blood pressure; and that the crisis was now affecting children as young as three or four.

Taming of the chew

Nonetheless mini-Minister at the Department of Health, Kathleeeen Lynch, is not convinced. She doesn’t ‘buy into’ the World Health Organisation prediction that Ireland is on course to be the most beefy country in Europe by 2030.

This is what she told a meeting of concerned GPs last week: ‘We have a whole range of actions now in relation to a Healthy Ireland programme that we are putting in place’ and that the World Health Organisation figures were just ‘an outline warning’ and a ‘good indicator to ensure we don’t get to that point’.

Solace indeed from the Minister responsible for the scandal-hit nursing home, Aras Atracta, in Swinford Co Mayo! In fact she sounded like harassed parents telling their children it was healthier to go out and play in the traffic than fiddle with the iPad.

Her comments were evocative of those emanating from Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly. He sees merit in the idea that weight loss programmes should become compulsory for very obese recipients of sickness benefits – and even extended (theoretically) to dole recipients who were not doing enough to lose weight.

The Doc, no slouch himself at ‘piling on the plumpness’, told a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that the obesity of an applicant who wished to be a foster parent ‘cannot be ignored’. The overall physical ability of a person to care for a child had to be considered, and that issues like being overweight ‘could impact on a person’s application,’ he declared.

Which reminded us of the wag in the Cork Arms who described his wife’s diet in this manner: ‘She’s on coconuts and bananas. She hasn’t lost any weight yet but, I tell ya boy, she can certainly climb a tree’.

Our assessment, for what it’s worth, is that although experts are blue in the face warning us of the obesity crisis, the government isn’t too concerned.


Good news is on the horizon. People just aren’t eating hamburgers like they used to. McDonalds has closed more than 350 stores worldwide since the beginning of 2015. They attribute the losses to an unprecedented level of global competition that’s munching into their hamburger profits. As well, the multinational has been involved in gigantic food safety and labour problems over the past year. These have seriously dented its culinary popularity.

In Japan, for instance, consumer confidence almost collapsed after plastic was found in chicken burgers. American first-quarter sales also fell in 2015, prompting McDonalds to declare it would stop sourcing chickens that had been treated with human antibiotics.

On top of that, medical warnings of the risk of eating too many burgers and chips –and not just in McDonalds – eventually got through to US mammies who discovered that fast food could make their children stupid as well as fat.

In response, the moms seriously took on board the assertion that learning and memory difficulties during adolescence can be attributed to the consumption of take-away gunge and soft drinks, while kids who ate plenty of fruit and veggies had a higher cognitive performance.

Fat chance

Perhaps a similar anti-fat message will have success here in spite of Kathleeeen’s and the government’s inaction. If so, let’s celebrate the happy development with a marvellous poem that conveys the beauty and unique characteristics of the take-away. But, first, a schoolboy joke about the lady who was so fat that small objects orbited her. (Don’t even dare! Ed)

Here’s the poem:

‘Eating at fast-food restaurants,

Still drives me to distraction,

But I wouldn’t call it snobbery,

Just a kind of gut reaction.’

(You’re sacked. Ed)

And another verse:

‘The rise of fast-food restaurants,

Though convenient in many respects,

Is sure to increase the sightings of,

Unidentified Frying Objects’.

(You’re definitely sacked. Ed)

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