Survey: 26% of Irish men are obese

MORE than a quarter of Irish men and a fifth of Irish women are obese, the findings of a national survey have revealed.

According to the survey by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance at University College Cork and University College Dublin, obesity has increased more than three-fold in men and 1.7-fold in women in the last 20 years.

The study, which documented diet and lifestyle behaviour of 1,500 Irish adults found that almost 26% of men are now obese, up from 8% in 1990.

In women, the rate of obesity is 21%, up from 13%.

Other key findings of the study include:

- More than 60% of adults exceed the recommended fat intake.

- Four out of five adults are not getting the recommended daily intake of dietary fibre.

- Daily salt intake is higher than the level recommended.

- Many women have inadequate intakes of iron, calcium, vitamin D and the B-vitamin folate.

- Low intakes of fruit and vegetables, with the average intakes of these foods well below international recommendations.

- More than one quarter of adults consume alcohol in excess of the maximum recommended intakes.

According to Professor Albert Flynn of UCC, the scientific data provided by this study will be widely used to develop nutrition policy for Ireland and assist in the development of programmes to tackle obesity.

“We need clear guidelines for healthy eating — guidelines that focus on appropriate portion sizes, lower consumption of fat, salt and alcohol, and higher intake of vegetables and fruit, fibre, and key vitamins and minerals.”

Dr Anne Nugent of the UCD Institute of Food and Health said the rise of obesity or being overweight in adults must be tackled.

“Obesity is strongly related to diabetes, and is also linked with increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, bone joint disorders and certain cancers. The continuing rise in overweight and obesity in this age group highlights the need to identify ways to help adults to adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits.”

Reacting to the findings, Food and Drink Industry Ireland head of consumer foods Shane Dempsey said future government policy should focus on enabling people to establish a health energy in/energy out balance in their lifestyles.

“Unfortunately, there is no silver-bullet solution to the problem of obesity and the wider health of the population. Food companies have been providing clear guideline daily amount nutrition information on labels, have reformulated existing products and introduced new ones to allow greater consumer choice.

“The food industry has been and will continue to play its role. The government needs to approach this problem objectively, involving all stakeholders who can contribute to a strategy for addressing obesity.”

What is obesity?

OBESITY specifically refers to an excess amount of body fat. Bodybuilders or athletes with a lot of muscle can be overweight without being obese. Excess weight normally results from a sustained energy imbalance: eating more calories than are burned off through exercise.

For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are calculated using a ratio of weight and height using body mass index (BMI).

The BMI figure is arrived at by dividing your body weight by the square of your height.

An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese, while over 40 is considered morbidly obese.

An adult with a measure of between 18.5 and 25 is defined as normal, 16 to 18.5 underweight and less than 16 severely underweight.

It is important to remember that although BMI is linked with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat.

Another quick and easy method of estimating body fat and body fat distribution is waist circumference. If a person carries fat mainly around their waist, they are more likely to develop health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure than if they carry fat mainly in their hips and thighs.

To get an accurate obesity measurement, consult a GP or dietician.

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