We need to take action in fighting obesity for our kids’ sake, says expert as Irish obesity reaches epidemic level

OBESITY in Ireland has reached epidemic proportions.

A new report by the World Health Organization released last week found we rank ninth in Europe for obesity in adults – out of 53 countries.

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Susie Birney, Executive Director for the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity, Temple Street Children’s HospitalCredit: SEE SOURCE
A new report by the World Health Organization released last week found we rank ninth in Europe for obesity in adults

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A new report by the World Health Organization released last week found we rank ninth in Europe for obesity in adultsCredit: Photodisc – Getty

One in four adults here are obese, while 61 per cent are overweight or obese. It’s no better for the kids. Irish five to nine-year-olds rank ninth for overweight and obesity while 10 to 19-year-olds are tenth.

Further new research, published on World Obesity Day recently, found ten per cent of children aged between nine and 12 have more than one takeaway per week.

The study also shows 45 per cent of parents say they have more takeaways now than before the start of the pandemic.

Writing in The Irish Sun on Sunday today, SUSIE BIRNEYExecutive Director for the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity, left, says the stigma around weight begins in childhood.

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AT the European Congress on Obesity in Maastricht on May 5, the ACTION Teens international study results were launched.

Over 5,000 adolescents, 5,000 care-givers and 2,000 healthcare professionals were interviewed from ten countries across the globe.

Shocking results showed one in four adolescents were not aware they lived with obesity and four out of five children who have obesity will grow up to be adults living with this disease.

It is estimated there are currently 157million children living with obesity worldwide and this may double by 2030.

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One in three teenagers feel unable to speak to their parents about it and many revert to social media for guidance.

The misinformation on nutritional advice found online only creates further anxiety for these adolescents who want to have a healthier life.

Our weekly online support group meetings have seen many conversations arise where our members discuss being stigmatised because of their weight.

This can be in the workplace, where they might be passed over for promotion or see an interviewer look them up and down as they enter the room.

Or it can be in general society, where people will refuse to sit beside them on public transport or make verbal remarks regarding their weight.

Stigma in healthcare can be even more difficult, as it results in people not returning for medical care as they feel shame, and blame themselves for their weight.

HEREDITARY

However, family and friends are now reported to be the most prevalent source of the stigma – and considering the results coming from the ACTION teens study, this is something which needs to be addressed urgently.

Obesity has been found to be from 40 to 70 per cent hereditary. One of our active members has a teenage daughter who has been referred for treatment with the W82GO Child and Adolescent Obesity Service in Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street.

This is a child-centered multi-disciplinary clinical service led by the Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist, Dr Grace O’Malley.

This young teenager has an outstanding insight into the reality of how complex weight issues are.

WEIGHT STIGMA

Her mother has lived with obesity since early childhood but her father does not need any restriction on his food choices.

She understands that it is not simply enough to “eat less and move more”.

A telling quote from her for our online ICPO magazine last year was that “not all people who eat fries are overweight, and not all overweight people eat fries”.

If only everyone understood this, we would have no issues with weight stigma at all.

DISCRIMINATION

Yet we know that children are seeing examples of weight bias and discrimination every day, through children’s books, kids’ TV shows and weight-loss programs on television.

BMI is not an adequate measure for obesity on its own and, certainly, weight is only one of many factors that can affect health.

But statistics do show the prevalence of the numbers of people affected in our society.

With 60 per cent of our adult population either overweight or obese, there is an urgent need for all stakeholders to take action.

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This multi-disciplinary service for children is under-funded and waiting times are far too long.

Based on the recent ACTION Teens study, the waiting lists will only get longer, and the children will pay the price.

The study also shows 45 per cent of parents say they have more takeaways now than before the start of the pandemic

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The study also shows 45 per cent of parents say they have more takeaways now than before the start of the pandemicCredit: PA: Press Association

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