Ireland and the UK share obesity problem

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

The UK has a lot more in common with the south of Ireland than you think.

History aside, the two countries are bulging at the seams with overweight people. In the league of overweight nations the UK is sixth highest out of the 34 countries and Ireland is 11th.

Obesity is a major headache for the NHS

Obesity is a major headache for the NHS

Top country for fatties unsurprisingly is the United States with Japan just 3.7 in the table which has been published by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCED).

I write this with a certain guilt as I’ve just finished not one but two bits of my favourite shortbread with my midday coffee. I know very well that such indulgence should not be repeated anytime soon. But the rest of the packet is still there, Himself doesn’t like shortbread and I can’t give it to the dog.

OECD is concerned that obesity has now become ‘normalised’ and its authors predict that 40 per cent of Britons will be obese by 2030. Its author Mark Pearson says we haven’t taken the problem seriously for many years and ‘‘now it is the new normal to have this dilemma.’’

The UK and Ireland, of course live in that part of the world where even summers can be miserably cold and that could explain why our Mediterranean friends are low in the list.

But then Sweden and Switzerland are cold enough countries in winter and their figures are 12.3 and 10.3 respectively. So it can’t be the cold.

Canada is a country I love – my family live in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – and their winters are spent playing ice-hockey and ‘skidooing’ - as they call it, in the forests.

They rate 25.8, a single notch below the UK. I would have to say that my Canadian family, despite their hectic winter exercise, usually buy large or extra large sizes when they come home to visit then hit the shops.

I’m surprised the Irish figure is so high at 23 in the list. But then the south is festooned with terrific eating out establishments, wonderfully comfortable places where diners can sit for hours and gabble away while the wine flows. It never used to be like that.

Back in the Sixties and Seventies a visitor to the south would have been hard pressed to find an establishment serving food other than a cheese sandwich or a bowl of two-day-old soup.

The figures as they stand are a wake-up call because being overweight is a serious health issue causing headaches for a struggling NHS which is having to treat the results.

There is evidence that the problem could get worse because today’s generation of children are growing up much fatter than they should be. A published review on the subject from the Medical Research Council’s Public Health Science Unit at Glasgow has made the astonishing conclusion that grandparents are to blame by ‘killing children with kindness by overfeeding them with snacks and sweets’ which sets the stage for obesity and illness in later life. I suppose someone has to get the blame and grandparents are a handy target.

My generation comes from an age – just after the war – when children were waif-like as food and money was scarce. Luxuries were kept for birthday and Christmas.

I suppose we kept thin by weeding then later gathering potatoes, helping around the home, painting fences, cutting grass and minding the younger children.

We remember those thin times and determine that our grandchildren will not lack the luxuries we never had.

However I doubt if grandparents over-do indulging the young. More likely it’s the parents, both working, half the time living on carry-out food with limited time in the evenings to cook.

Most likely they won’t have time to let the children help in the kitchen preferring them to be out of the way and entertained by television, a bag of crisps in hand.

UK and Ireland are fighting the same battle in the home which makes a change from the political maelstrom which constantly surrounds them.

But it’s unfair to blame the grandparents even though I know that in my Christmas cupboard is my grandson’s favourite Midget Gems.