Big problem weighing on our minds - Ireland’s obesity crisis

A VISIT to Ireland’s splendid beaches during the recent spell of hot weather confirmed the picture of Irish people growing fatter and heading to be the most obese in Europe.

For two blissful days , people of all shapes and sizes flocked to the sea as temperatures soared.

Unfortunately, as baggy togs and micro bikinis were retrieved from the top shelf, there were worrying signs that the obesity crisis besetting the country problem is now grave. The picture that emerged was of an unhealthy Ireland, with all that implies for the spread of diabetes and heart problems.

The immediate problem is that people hoping for the treatment they need are queuing for almost years in order to gain access to an ailing health service. Regrettably, as today’s front page report makes clear, the country has only two public weight management hospitals and so pressing is demand for those services that people have waited for up to two years and eight months with almost 1,500 waiting simply to get an outpatient appointment.

The bitter irony of this scenario is that the Government is planning to publish an Obesity Policy and Action Plan, making obesity and overweight in general the focus of a major public health priority. This comes months after the much respected medical publication, the Lancet, claimed that within a decade both Ireland and the UK will be the most obese countries in Europe. Significantly, an earlier report from the World Health Organisation had reached the same conclusion.

Depicting a scary picture of a changing Ireland, it predicted that Europe is heading for an unprecedented explosion in rates of obesity and excess weight.

Not mincing its words, it forecast the rise of obesity would be of “enormous proporations” by 2030 — with this trend already being led by Ireland where 57% of women are found to be obese by researchers.

As for Irish men, while obesity levels are expected to increase to 48% by then, they are already ranked by WHO on a par with their counterparts in Uzbekistan, putting them at the top of an “overweight” league table of 53 countries.

According to the HSE, which runs the health service, 1,174 people are awaiting outpatient appointments at the weight management service in St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, where the average waiting time is two years and eight months.

Meanwhile, less than one tenth of the 308 patients requiring weight loss (bariatric) surgery at St Vincent’s University Hospital will be operated on this year.

Consultant Francis Finucane, of University Hospital Galway, the other public service, best summed up the professional and public view of the health service.

He finds it “embarrassing” to tell patients waiting over a year for a first appointment with him, they might be waiting several years more for the psychological, medical or surgical care they need.

“The services are only funded at a level to allow a trickle of activity” he said. “We should do it right or not do it at all.”

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