What you don’t measure, you can’t improve, said Health Minister Leo Varadkar after a health-of-the-nation study revealed people spend around five hours a day sitting around.
But the Irish lifestyle is improving slowly, according to the Healthy Ireland report: Fewer than one in five smoke, obesity has levelled off, and more people are exercising regularly.
There are now more ex-smokers in Ireland than smokers. “I think that is evidence public health policies over time do make a big difference,” Mr Varadkar said.
However, it emerged some people are still consuming too much alcohol, not taking enough exercise, and 60% are overweight.
Only 32% of the population meet the national physical activity recommendations even though people know they should be more physically active.
And just 15% of those drinking at harmful levels realise that drinking damages their health.
Mr Varadkar said the rate of binge drinking in Ireland was the second highest in the European region. The Healthy Ireland study showed drinking to excess was commonplace across all sections of society and four in ten drinkers binge drink at least once a month.
He said he expects to publish the Public Health Alcohol Bill in “a matter of weeks”, and that it was the first time the State would seek to tackle alcohol misuse on public health grounds.
The Healthy Ireland survey of 7,500 people aged 15 and over gives an up-to-date picture of the health of the nation.
“This survey gives us some really useful information and will be repeated every year. What you don’t measure you can’t improve,” Mr Varadkar said.
“It will feed into new policies on obesity, sexual health, and physical activity, and further legislation to control tobacco use.”
The first national comprehensive survey conducted since 2007 also shows while 85% of people consider they have good health, 28% have a long-standing condition.
Mr Varadkar said the study found a slight reduction in obesity levels since 2007. “Ireland is certainly not on track to be the most obese country in Europe, at least not based on this survey.”
However, he said the fact remained that about 60% of the population was overweight or obese and, as a result, Ireland faces a dramatic increase in chronic diseases that could reverse improvements made in life expectancy.
Mr Varadkar said a second Healthy Ireland survey is already under way and that would show if efforts being made to address a range of health issues were working.
The Healthy Ireland ethos puts emphasis on individual choice and autonomy — individuals, families and communities need to take the lead on their own health and wellbeing. “But society and government can and should play a part in making Ireland a more healthier environment in which to make those choices,” said Mr Varadkar.
Healthy Ireland data will be used to underpin policy development and implementation, as well as meeting many international reporting obligations, including to the OECD, EU, and WHO.
President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Prof Frank Murphy, said the findings showed a worrying lack of awareness of the damage that alcohol caused to health.
Calling for support for the Public Health Alcohol Bill, Prof Murphy said it could play an important role in dealing with alcohol abuse
“The survey shows how public health initiatives that were fiercely resisted by tobacco companies have been a resounding success in reducing deaths and smoking rates in Ireland. We have an opportunity to make similar strides in reducing the health harms of alcohol,” he said.
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