Poor lifestyle choices putting strain on health service, warns medical chief

Dr Michael McBride,Chief Medical Officer.
Dr Michael McBride,Chief Medical Officer.

Excessive drinking threatens to undo a generation of good work in improving public health, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer has warned.

Minimum pricing of alcohol should be considered to help save health services from further pressure, Dr Michael McBride said.

He also added sedentary lifestyles were contributing to rising levels of obesity.

The senior medic said: “Excessive and irresponsible alcohol consumption, especially in young people, is also threatening to unravel a generation of good work in public health and put further pressure on our health services.

“I think we should continue to engage in the debate about measures such as minimum pricing of alcohol and further restrictions on smoking, such as in private vehicles with children present.”

Obesity is contributing to the increase in people with diabetes, heart disease and cancer, with almost twice as many living with diabetes as a decade ago.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has warned more than half of adults are overweight or obese.

Dr McBride said: “Obesity is undoubtedly the most significant public health issue confronting our generation.”

The senior doctor launched his annual report today.

He said: “A number of lifestyle factors continue to have a negative effect on our health and I am concerned about the impact that this will have on future generations.”

More than 75,000 people have diabetes, where blood sugar levels have to be artificially controlled by injecting insulin or using tablets.

Rising levels of obesity, people living longer and improved detection and diagnosis of the condition are behind the increase, health authorities said.

If left untreated it can cause serious long-term health complications such as heart disease, kidney damage, eye problems, which can affect vision, and foot problems leading to amputation.

Dr McBride noted broad improvement in public health levels, seen in the steady rise in life expectancy and reduction in death rates from heart disease and a number of cancers in those aged under 75.

However, the senior medic expressed concern about obesity. Last year the PHA said 61% of adults were overweight or obese, reducing the life expectancy of those affected by up to nine years.

Dr McBride said he was also worried about smoking rates - a quarter of adults continue to use tobacco despite concerted campaigns, legislation and cessation services.

Almost 3,000 people in Northern Ireland have died from alcohol-related illness over the past decade.

Health Minister Edwin Poots is considering imposing a minimum price on cheap alcohol to protect young people and doctors have warned of the health dangers of binge drinking.

A total of 2,849 people, two-thirds of them men, died between 2002 and 2012.

Mr Poots said: “We must all take greater responsibility for our own health and simple steps like watching what we eat, taking regular exercise and cutting down or stopping smoking and drinking alcohol can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing conditions which place a considerable burden on our healthcare system.”