There is an “alarming” lack of knowledge about obesity in this country, according to research from the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP).
A staggering 82% of people do not know the minimum amount of exercise needed for a healthy lifestyle was a 30-minute session three times a week, while 37% said they have become less physically active in recent years.
The vast majority, 97%, are also unaware children under the age of 5 are most at risk of becoming obese.
The figures were obtained by the ISCP after the organisation surveyed 1,000 people about exercise and physical activity.
“The ignorance of the main facts related to the benefits of exercise for positive health is both startling and alarming and requires the immediate raising of public awareness by the Government and the HSE,” said ISCP president Jill Long.
“Physical inactivity is among the most significant global health problems in the 21st century. It is the fourth highest cause of mortality worldwide and is in the top 10 causes of death and disability in moderate to high income countries.”
Ms Long said chartered physiotherapists have “an enormous part to play” in the overall health of the nation and can help tackle the problem of increasingly sedentary lifestyles by advising schools and industries about health, behaviour and exercise.
“Health policy and decision makers need to recognise the intrinsic value of chartered physiotherapy which has the capability to influence significant cost savings and reduce waiting lists in the healthcare system,” she said.
According to the ISCP survey, one in every three people are unaware physical activity reduces the risk of older people falling, while one in five don’t realise it can also be used as a treatment for mild to moderate forms of depression.
“We’re trying to promote movement in people. We’re trying to get people getting out there and just trying to move away from that sedentary lifestyle that just seems to be creeping up on us at the moment,” said chartered physiotherapist Jenny Branigan on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“As chartered physiotherapists we need to raise awareness of the crucial contribution that our profession can make in educating people in the levels of physical activity necessary.”
The ISCP said while it was “really disappointed” with the results, 41% of respondents did say they were, in fact, more physically active than five years ago.
Those in Dublin were found to have increased their exercise the most, followed by Munster residents.
Ms Branigan said while the recession may have led to a reduction in gym memberships, more people are taking up running.
“With the downturn and people being under financial constrictions it sometimes means the physical activity gets bumped down the list of priorities.
“But having said that there’s a great running boom on at the moment so we’re seeing people out in numbers like we’ve never seen before,” she said.
“So there have been a lot of people who are getting active but overall the trend seems to be people in general are not aware of how much physical activity is required to try and keep healthy.”
She warned that if this trend continues, there will be an increase in the amount of people suffering from type-2 diabetes and various cardiac issues.
The ISCP survey was carried out as part of World Physiotherapy Day, which takes place on September 8.
Body mass index and obesity
A man with an average height of 1.77 metres is classed as obese if he weighs more than 95kg.
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