Obesity specialist 'hopeful' Leo Varadkar will push measures to fight epidemic

Donal O'Shea stresses that "you've got to change the environment" to tackle obesity

Obesity specialist 'hopeful' Leo Varadkar will push measures to fight epidemic

Professor Donal O'Shea. Photo Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

An obesity specialist says he is hopeful that the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will help refocus efforts on making Ireland a healthier environment.

It comes as a recently released study showed that nearly two-thirds of Irish adults are obese or overweight.

Professor Donal O'Shea, chair of the Royal College of Physician's policy group on obesity, spoke to Bobby's Late Breakfast about the current obesity epidemic.

Donal began by discussing a recent international study of obesity.

He explained: "It shows the population doubling of obesity over the last 25 years in adults. I think, more worryingly, it shows in the same time a trebling of the childhood overweight and obesity problem - and that of course feeds into the adult problem.

"At the extreme end - which is the people who are over 16-18 stone... what you're seeing is a six-fold increase in people over 16 stone, and a 1200% increase in people over 20 stone in the last 25 years.

"It's almost like global warming at an individual level," he argued.

Spreading in the environment

Donal explained that if being overweight was merely a cosmetic issue, he would not care about the issue. However, he stressed that it's far more significant that that.

He told Bobby: "The problem is that overweight and obesity, and the drivers of it - which are physical inactivity and over-nutrition - drive cancer, dementia, diabetes. When we hear about trolley counts [...] if we didn't have an obesity epidemic, we would not have a trolley problem."

He stressed that obesity is environmentally driven. He observed: "If a friend of yours becomes overweight or obese in the next five years, your chance of becoming overweight or obese is increased by 70%. The same applies to depression, the same applies to cancer - they spread within the environment."

With that in mind, can visible calorie counts in restaurants and cafés make a difference in the war against obesity?

"People do want to know," Donal suggested. "But unfortunately it's the better off, better educated that change their decision-making based on calorie posting. What's extraordinary is the industry lobby against calorie posting."

However, Donal does believe the recent election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach could make a difference when it comes to fighting obesity.

He said: "He is a stated big fan of making the environment more healthy. Things like the legislation on calorie posting on menu boards [or] minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

"[I'm hopeful] that they will be pushed, and pushed hard, because you've got to change the environment," he added.