herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leo's no Mr Motivator but flabby Irish need a big push on health

So the Government are not going to make us skinny.

Well, that's a shame.

Our new Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has said it's up to us to change our lifestyle. Ah come on Minister, don't be mean.

Surely you can get the nation to change its eating habits, exercise more, drink less and turn around the statistic that four out of five of us are obese?

I mean it can't be that big ask really now, can it?

Of course he can't, but the Government is facing an interesting dilemma.

Ireland is heading down the road to becoming the fattest country in Europe, according to a leading expert, Prof Donal O'Shea. So does the Government simply tell the people to buck up?

When I was young, there were two obvious differences to how things were for young people today.

There was less processed food on sale, so my parents only had the option of cooking from scratch. 
No jars of sauces, no packets of additives. A potato, a vegetable and a bit of meat - that was it.

It sounds old-fashioned now but back then, simple grub was, well, simply the only option.

The other major difference was that we had to do PE in primary school. Today, kids don't have to do that. Isn't that staggering? Primary schools are not obliged to do any form of exercise.

It's up to each individual school to decide if physical education is as important as other subjects. 
And in fact, Ireland's primary schools spend less time in PE than any other European member state.

I use these two examples not to sound all nostalgic about the "good ol' days".

I could go on and do the old routine: "We played outside from morning 'til night...we were happy with a skipping rope...there were no Playstations in my day".

But I hate that type of nostalgia - it's pointless. The world changes and today we live in a different society.

That said, the Government cannot simply wash their hands of the obesity problem. The amount of hidden sugar and salt a parent has to be aware of when they buy food is a huge problem.

The aisles of supermarkets are riddled with unhealthy options that many people don't even realise are there.

Parents are targeted with such clever, colourful and inviting products that it would take a robot not to be lured by something that seems good for us, but in fact isn't.

OVERWEIGHT

And it's not just kids who are loading up on these products. Last week we learned that four out of five of the over 50s in Ireland were either obese or overweight.

Maybe they're making up for the simple foods of their youth.

So I know its not up to Minister Varadkar to do a live broadcast every morning in his lycras, and become our Mr Motivator.

But the Government does need to play its part in stopping this country from becoming the fattest in the world.

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