Big issue: Irish obesity hits endemic proportions

OBESITY is now endemic in Ireland where the number of cancer deaths remains above the EU average but our life expectancy has improved at a rate unmatched in the EU, a report has found.

The report, Health in Ireland: Key Trends, also found lifestyle risks remain to the fore as major areas of concern, particularly alcohol consumption, obesity and lack of physical exercise. The report, the second in a series published by the Department of Health, found:

* Overall life expectancy in Ireland stands at over 79 years, almost one year greater than the average for the EU. In 1980, our life expectancy was 72 years compared to an EU average of 74.

* Diseases of the circulatory system and cancer remain the leading causes of mortality in Ireland accounting for almost two thirds of all deaths.

* Ireland compares favourably with the EU for principal causes of death with the exception of cancer where the rate is 2.2% above the EU average.

* Alcohol consumption per person in Ireland doubled over the past 25 years putting us close to the top of the EU, but has declined from a peak in 2001.

* Prescription items dispensed under the medical card scheme doubled in a decade to nearly 45 million per year in 2007.

* The most common doctor-diagnosed health conditions are high blood pressure followed by chronic back conditions and high cholesterol (both 8%).

The report also found the number of people aged over 65 will have doubled by 2025; the population rose 17.7% up to 4.4 million people in the past 10 years; more than 80% of all men and women report their health to be “very good” or “good” and 59% of men and 41% of women are now self-reporting as either overweight or obese.

Commenting on improvements in health, the report said it was difficult to measure what proportion of this may be attributable to better health services but that it was at least indicative that much of the gain has been in mortality from conditions particularly amenable to treatment.

In relation to alcohol consumption and obesity, it said they were to some degree related to increased prosperity and “a period of economic contraction” may provide an opportunity to tackle them more effectively.

The report also found suicide and deaths from motor vehicle accidents disproportionately affected the young, especially young males and suicide rates more than tripled in Ireland between 1970 and 1998.

However, the rate of suicide in Ireland is in fact among the lowest of other European countries.

In relation to hospital services, it found while inpatient numbers have increased by 16% between 1999 and 2008, day cases have risen 148%.

Numbers of hospital consultants and junior doctors have both increased at rates higher than the average for HSE employment as a whole – almost 50% increases from 2000 to 2009.

Welcoming the publication, Health Minister Mary Harney said the health services had played a significant role in these “remarkable improvements”.


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