The expansion of the Ulster waist-line is threatening to bankrupt the Health Service in 20 years, obesity should be weighing heavily on the Health Minister’s mind; if only we had one…

Good grief Northern Ireland you’re getting bigger!  One-in-four of us has now moved up the scales to possess a “Over-30-BMI-Body”.  Given that the expansion of the Ulster waist-line is threatening to bankrupt the Health Service in 20 years, obesity should be weighing heavily on the Health Minister’s mind; if only we had one.   If we had, he or she should recognise the seriousness of the issue and scrap our Obesity Strategy (Fitter Futures for All: Framework for Preventing and Addressing Overweight and Obesity in N. Ireland).

Published in February 2012, revised in 2015, I had cause to re-read it recently and was appalled at how naive it is.  Health minister Poots, then in post, should have aborted its publication and sent the civil servants responsible to bed without any supper for producing what must be the most; boring, dull, predictable and thoroughly useless document I have ever read.   OK, I might be a little harsh here; the strategy has targets and I like targets; a 4% reduction in adult obesity and a 3% reduction in childhood obesity by 2022.  But given the strategy’s emphasis and focus; he had only a slim chance of stopping a current annual rise.  Five years and three health ministers on we are going the wrong way.

The strategy demonstrates a profound ignorance of the causes of obesity and as a consequence government remains in denial of the tsumani of adipose tissue currently swamping us.  But remember DUP had the Assembly health portfolio back then and conservative thinking was dominant; blame fat people for being fat!   We read again and again that people “must take responsibility for their own health”.  Indeed, the aim of the strategy is “to empower the population of NI to make healthy choices…”.  If this is all we can come up with we really are in trouble.  If there were a simple relationship between calories in and calories out then how the hell did we get into this shape given that we are probably eating fewer calories now than we did 20 years ago.

A strategy that is solely focused on stopping thin people becoming fat by asking them to eat sensibly and take more exercise is just simply useless in the extreme.  This only amounts to 25% of the problem.  The remaining 75% percent is mostly beyond the control of the individual; 25% is down to genes, 15% down to poor food labelling, 15% down to processed foods and 20% down to the built environment.

The strategy promises to do next to nothing for the 25% of us who are currently obese; the ones who will become diabetic, suffer from heart disease and develop cancers and who will cost the health service a fortune and spend so much time in poor health that they might question their willingness to keep living. And remember most of them will be poor and will be kept fat because of their circumstances.

In Belfast today a meeting organised by the All Island Obesity Action Forum discussed an issue I was unaware of; Obesity Stigma.  Off course the fuller figure has always been the target of the stand-up but it’s worrying when doctors and others in healthcare have a similar jaundiced view of the corpulent.  Evidence is growing that over-weight people are denied access to treatments due to the, often unconscious, bias and stereotyping of their doctor or consultant who think since they won’t look after themselves why should the Health Service.  Indeed, many obese people avoid the GP as they feel they are being treated with contempt and disdain.  This matter, if widespread needs urgent attention.

Off course refusal of government to regulate because regulation might upset Big Sugar, Big Fast Food or Big Supermarket is just plain cowardly and a major flaw in the strategy.  Fat is cheap and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is cheaper still and both are packed into processed foods everything from soft-drinks, to burgers, to sausages, to hot-dogs, to  ketchup and chilli sauces, even bread baps.

And then there are the supermarkets who refuse to use food labelling that people understand since plain labelling, such as the traffic-light system developed by the Foods Standards Agency, causes people to eat healthier foods.   If people eat healthy foods they won’t buy the processed rubbish supermarkets make huge margins on.  A fat tax is a way to modify behaviours effectively and yet no commitment in the strategy. A sugar tax yes and, we will see how that pans out in the real world of the lobby groups.

Our obesity strategy has served up a plate of cold platitudes.   In its current form it will fail and in 20 years time half of us will have that “Over-30-BMI-Body”, there will be a reversal of the great work done in reducing heart deaths and 20% of us will have type 2 diabetes and some of these will be as young as 12 years.


  • The worm!

    You really need to take a drive around our lovely countryside.

    You’ll find vegetables of all sorts and cereals growing abundantly in the parts of the country best suited to them, it’s just that in Northern Ireland those parts are few and far between.

    As for passing wind, ever think what would happen if all the inhabitants of the country were vegetarian!

  • The worm!

    Wouldn’t disagree with that at all.

    However, there are plenty of “stand alone” issues within food production which need addressed.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Your capacity for insult appears to be better than your ability to back up the statement you made that humanity and the planet wouldn’t survive without meat production.

  • Hugh Davison

    I did not advocate for vegetarianism. I just pointed out a fact about Irish agriculture. What people do in Artnagullion is their business.

  • Hugh Davison

    I did not advocate for vegetarianism. I just pointed out a fact about Irish agriculture. You might like to give an example of the legislation you’re talking about.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    It’s ok, I didn’t think you were.

    PETA go too far, vegetarianism and veganism now have an aloof elite who look down upon the rest of us and hobble what should be a commendable way of life (I just can’t, I love hog too much…).

    As for the rest of and how farming affects the environment, I’m annoyed that it’s come to ‘farmers vs the world’.

    For example, bio-digesters. I would love for them to be common place; waste goes in and enriched fertiliser and gas comes out. Enough gas to provide some power.

    In fact, I’d go further and advocate farm breweries with bio-digesters; all that lovely waste yeast would be perfect to accelerate the process.

    I presume you’re familiar with the good folks at Hilltown farm between R’town and Ahoghill? I wait for them to do something like that.

    I think that we’re wasting a lot of potential with our farms (I come from a farming family…) and it’ll be difficult to persuade some of the old guard to change but it’s all very doable.

    (oh, I was in Italy a couple of weeks ago, they have an entire sector called agriturismo; family farms with shops and restaurants, absolutely brilliant, I’d take one over the Hilton any day. I hope they will do something similar in NI)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Interestingly, by that standard, our own NI beef and lamb are probably some of the most healthy foodstuffs you’ll consume.”

    On a few occasions some of my foreign friends have cited the quality of the meat as a stand-out feature. I thought they were taking the Michael and had a steak from Lidl (as per recommendation) and was delighted with the quality of it.
    I’d just assumed it’d be awful and was delightfully wrong.

  • The worm!

    It’s all there, knock yerself out!

  • The worm!

    Don’t know the Hillstown people myself, but know of them, wouldn’t just be my area.

    I do a bit of relief milking as a sideline and at the moment I’m looking after a dairy herd on a farm which also has a coffee shop/tea room. To put it in perspective, one person (me!) looks after the farming operation, whereas three or four people are employed by the tea room. So apart from everything else a bit of diversification would do wonders for rural employment.

    But, the present system of farm support is a curse, no progress will be made till it’s ditched.

  • The worm!

    A rib-eye steak out of Lidl is hard to beat!

    It’s a bit odd that what is supposed to be a bargain basement type place, generally knocks spots off everywhere else with the quality of their fresh produce.

    Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise at all!

  • Hugh Davison
  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Could you expand on the farm support system please, what are its shortcomings?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Also, when I lived in Australia I noticed how many farm shops there were.
    A farmer in Victoria told me that any farmer with less than 500 acres needed a second income.

    I think our farmers are well placed to offer such services, though I don’t fancy being the person trying to persuade the older farmers into opening shops! (My Granda near erupted when I suggested a farmers market 15 years ago…)

  • The worm!

    No, you’ll more likely find some pointers under cross-compliance regulations.

    Which also means it’s enforceable by threat of withholding BFP.

  • The worm!

    Well, to generalise a bit, basically the farmers are a bit too pampered at the minute.

    Why bother looking for new ideas when you have a nice big Basic Farm Payment cheque to look forward to at the end of the year.

    Never mind an RHI boiler!

  • Hugh Davison

    Tried a search on BFP on the web link you gave me. Result: 0.
    Anyway, if you’re in the farming game aren’t you going to lose all your free dosh when Brexit happens?

  • The worm!

    So you want me to waste my time instead trying to educate you on the complexities of cross-compliance and Basic Farm Payment?

    Plainly you have zero knowledge of the agricultural industry and it’s regulations yet still see fit to pass judgement on how it operates without any concept why.

    Then have the barefaced nerve to accuse me of wasting YOUR time!

    Well don’t worry, I certainly won’t be “wasting” any more of it.