Wednesday 26 October 2016

Sinead Ryan: We're overweight and won't change, so it's time to tax sugar

An obese woman
An obese woman

We IRISH like to think of ourselves as a fairly smart, pragmatic lot. We tell it like it is and don't suffer fools gladly.

For example, with an election on the horizon, we'll waste no opportunity to tell politicians what we don't believe about their promises.

So is hard to understand how we can be so delusional in one key area - our health.

The latest 'Health of the Nation' report from the Department of Health needs more than a calculator to add up the contents - it needs sleight of hand. Some 85pc of people report themselves to be in 'good' or 'very good' health. That's great.

However, 28pc have a long-standing illness or condition rendering almost one in five 'limited' in carrying out every day activities.

Nobody needs an 'A' in maths to work out that many of us are fooling ourselves.

Even stranger are the results for what we already know is a massive problem: obesity. While 37pc of people are their proper, or advisable weight, 60pc are either overweight or obese. That makes it the majority state and perhaps that's what makes it easier to believe it's 'normal'.

If most of the people we know are fat (even if they don't admit it), then our fat begins to look okay.

Perhaps we find it more difficult to discern what fat looks like, in us or our children. Perhaps we find it difficult to see that being in 'good' or 'very good' health is usually incompatible with being fat.

What is clear though is the effect being fat has on our health, particularly in later life, and on the health system we all pay taxes towards. Illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke are all more likely to happen to overweight people. Being healthy in pregnancy, or old age is harder if you're fat.

I've used the 'f' word there a lot. That might have annoyed you a bit. We're used to using euphemisms which sound nicer than 'fat'. 'Big boned', 'larger than life', 'plus sized', 'curvy', 'stocky' are all common and easier on the ear. But isn't that part of fooling ourselves?


In the survey, lots of people, especially women, reported that they were trying to lose weight by a combination of eating less and exercising more. It's the only reliable way to do it, so at least they recognise that. However, trying and doing are different things.

If you're the kind of person who needs to lose weight and takes a nice Sunday walk in a park or gets off at the before-last bus stop in order to do it, you are fooling yourself.

Likewise if you take a refreshing stroll at lunchtime and then tuck into a burger or sauce-laden sandwich, forget it.

It's easy to think of some things as exercise when they're not. A common assumption is that it takes 30 minutes of exercise five times a week to lose weight but really, that's only going to maintain what you weigh.

Most scientific studies suggest 60 minutes a day of "moderate to vigorous" movement. And unless you have a racing greyhound your morning dog walk isn't going to cover that for you.

Getting the heart rate up and keeping it up is vital. Eating well, healthily and most importantly filling yourself up with the proper foods is necessary.

Rewarding yourself for a 20-minute walk by eating a packet of chocolate digestives afterwards is useless.

Sixty five per cent of those surveyed by the Department of Health said they ate snacks or sugary drinks every day.

But one person's snack is another person's lunch.

What nutritionists 'snack' on is a handful of nuts, or a small piece of fruit. You or I might consider it a chocolate eclair with a latte.

So, in doing all this research the Government has now to go much further. It can 'encourage' and 'educate' all it likes, but things aren't improving.

Is it time to take out the stick rather than the carrot (cake)?

Conversations have been had over sugar taxes and compulsory weighing of children and denying public health treatments until people lose weight, and all the while we tie ourselves in politically-correct knots.

Have we left it too late to hope that overweight people finally get it, or does the Government have to start taxing to get the message across?

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