There is no denying that Ireland has begun to develop an unhealthy relationship with regards to diet and weight statistics. In fact, the World Health Organization has stated there is to be ‘an unprecedented explosion’ in European obesity rates. The WHO report claims that by 2030, Europe will face an obesity crisis of ‘enormous proportions’. Irish men are set to be the most obese grouping in Europe by this time, and whilst some experts and members of the public argue that there are worse things a person could be and the conversation about promoting body image continues, the spike in nationwide obesity will bring both unwanted statistics and negative health-related effects to those it has affected. These effects may include decreased quality of life, decreased life expectancy, increases in degenerative heart diseases, and increased mental health difficulties.
The Irish government has recently explored several options to combat the projected increase. Firstly, the Sugar Tax was introduced in May of this year to drinks with a sugar content of 5 grams or more. Similar to this tax, there have been calls by the Irish Heart Foundation for fast-food to be hit with a higher rate of VAT. The current rate of tax on fast-food products is 9%, which was designed to boost the tourism and hospitality sector after the recession. Dr Donal O’Shea, the HSE’s lead on obesity, said the tax anomaly was “completely counterproductive”. Dr O’Shea said the consumption of fast food was directly linked to the over-weight and obesity statistics. He also stated that fiscal measures to encourage health lifestyles are more effective than public health campaigns. Experts have been calling on the government to not just bring the tax back to the normal 13.5% rate, but to tax fast-food at the highest possible rate.
One of the most important changes that has been adopted in a bid to counteract obesity levels in children is the introduction of a Leaving Cert PE class in secondary schools. Over half of the secondary schools in Ireland applied for the new course to be piloted at their school, with only 80 being selected. The first exams for this course will be held in June 2020 and the assessment is broken up into 3 distinct areas: a written exam on some strategies and planning for optimum performance will count for 50 per cent; a coaching or choreographer project will count for 20 per cent; and a digital/video project capturing their own choice of activity will count for 30 per cent. Teachers of the subject have stated early that the aim is to strike a balance between the physical engagement in the subject and the knowledge needed and importance of leading a healthy and active lifestyle. Students are being reassured they do not need to be the best athlete or have a great interest in the subject to participate, just like any other Leaving Cert subject, but need a willingness to participate and learn. The aim is for the subject to become optional in all secondary schools by Autumn 2020.
Part of the higher agenda of this introduction is to combat the rising obesity epidemic and educate people at a younger age about the importance of a balanced and active lifestyle. Not quite the finished product yet, but a significant step in the right direction.