Minister responds to Obesity Issue

69% think Ireland has a problem with obesity

2 September 2004

According to a recent survey, 69% of people feel that Ireland has a serious problem with obesity, with 32% reporting that they are concerned about becoming obese.

The results of the Lansdowne Market Research Omnibus Survey were announced today (2nd September), by the Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., at the launch of a new Government campaign to tackle overweight and obesity; Every Step Counts, Small Changes Make the Difference.

The Minister said that whilst most people were aware of the growing problem of obesity and overweight, trends 1 indicate that as a nation, we are becoming progressively heavier, borne out by the 30% increase in reported obesity levels over the last four years.

"Obesity is emerging as one of the most serious health problems in Ireland," said Minister Martin. "Whilst every second person is overweight, one in eight Irish people is obese and we are setting poor trends for future generations."

The research 2, undertaken by the Health Promotion Unit at the Department of Health and Children, highlighted some of the barriers faced by people in relation to being more active. 33% of married men and 26% of married women said they would be more active if they had more time, whilst 41% of those in the 65+ age bracket would be more active if they had more energy.

The weather was also blamed for sedentary lifestyles, with 19% saying that they would be more active if the weather was better.

23% of 15-24 year olds would be encouraged by cheaper gym memberships, whilst 38% in this age bracket said that better sports facilities would encourage greater levels of activity.

When asked what they would do with ‘an extra hour in the day’, 20% of respondents would watch TV and 12% would use the extra hour to sleep.

Speaking at the launch, the Minister highlighted that the main causes of obesity and overweight are linked to food habits and physical activity levels and, according to the survey, there was a good knowledge of these factors:

When asked about the main causes of obesity:

Despite figures that show that around 50% of the population is overweight or obese, 74% of single men are not concerned about becoming overweight and this figure falls to just 63% for their married counterparts. Data shows however that in Ireland obesity in men is actually increasing at a faster rate than in women, and the Minister highlighted this as an area for concern.

Minister Martin also spoke about his concerns in relation to falling levels of activity, which were reflected by the 37% of those surveyed who said that they would always, or very often, use transport for journeys of less than one mile.

This figure increases to 49% for people aged 35-44 and 50% of married men said that they would take the car or bus for journeys of less than one mile. The Minister said; "A journey of one mile takes around 15 minutes, at a reasonable walking pace. Whilst I appreciate that other factors often influence the decision to use transport, it is worrying that so many people would regularly opt for the car ahead of walking, which is the healthier option".

"It is imperative that, for better health, we each look at our own levels of activity and, whenever possible, take small steps to build on these levels".

"I also urge people to look at what they are eating and, in particular, to pay attention to their portion sizes. For most people, it is the combination of healthy eating and regular activity that will ensure a healthy weight."

The Campaign

The campaign is a response to the growing levels of overweight and obesity in Ireland. Every Step Counts...Small Changes Make The Difference promotes two main lifestyle areas of healthy eating and regular physical activity, neither of which will be dealt with in isolation.

During the main campaign months of September and October, a high profile programme of activity will be carried out nationwide. This will include the distribution of thousands of leaflets and posters; supermarket activity; nationwide dance events for young people; fun record-breaking initiatives; press competitions and give-aways, workplace information programmes and many other events which will be organised by the Health Promotion Departments of the local Health Boards.

The Minister also launched a dedicated campaign website www.healthysteps.ie which will be online from 6th September and forms part of the main website: www.healthpromotion.ie

Every Step Counts, Small Changes Make the Difference will complement the work already being done by the National Task Force on Obesity, established by the Minister earlier this year.

Minister's Speech