Ireland's obesity problem affects people from all walks of life - it can no longer be ignored or considered ‘someone else’s problem’.

2 October 2014

“Obesity is affecting a growing proportion of older Irish adults, with over one third having a body mass index greater than 30kg/m2. Most notable, over 50% of the over 50’s are carrying a dangerous amount of fat around their middle. This excess weight is associated with increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic conditions such as arthritis and asthma.”

“These findings are both surprising and frightening considering that childhood overweight and obesity scarcely existed in Ireland until recent decades. Today’s over 50s did not grow up in what we consider an ‘obesogenic environment’ – television and computer games had yet to be invented, vending machines and fast food outlets were not common place,  nor was public transport so freely available in Ireland of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. This generation have not lived through a lifetime of sedentary behaviour as younger age groups are now experiencing, yet this does not appear to have protected older men and women against the rapidly growing obesity epidemic.”

“The TILDA findings do not bode well for today’s children, of who a quarter of nine year olds are already overweight or obese. The knock on effects of obesity and its health consequences are already beginning to emerge in the over 50’s. Compared to those with a normal body mass index or waist circumference, obese older adults are more frequent visitors to their GP and also take a greater number of prescription medications. Due to its association with disease and disability, obesity leads to both a reduced life expectancy and a greater number of years lived with disability. Rising rates of obesity will increase future care needs in the older population and compound the strain on an already limited health service.”

“The obesity problem affects people from all walks of life. It can no longer be ignored or considered ‘someone else’s problem’. Society as a whole needs to take responsibility for tacking this national epidemic. Health professionals agree that long term prevention of obesity is the key to offsetting the social and economic burden of disease. However, for a significant proportion of the older population, it is too late for prevention; the focus must shift to minimising the negative health implications of obesity.”

“Lifestyle changes in the form of increased physical activity and better dietary choices are the preferred first line of treatment. Recent advertising campaigns targeted at families with young children are commendable and hopefully will go some way towards reducing levels of overweight and obesity in the Irish population in years to come. Similarly, national and local campaigns aimed at educating and enabling older adults to practice healthy dietary choices and to engage in regular physical activity must be implemented. For those who do not respond to lifestyle interventions, more aggressive treatment in the form of drug therapy or weight loss (bariatric) surgery may be warranted.”

“Whatever the approach, reducing obesity levels and the associated health burden across all age groups in Ireland is crucial in terms of maximising future health and wellbeing and ensuring the sustainability of our health and social care systems.”

Dr Siobhan Leahy, TILDA Research Fellow and lead author of the July 2014 TILDA report: “Obesity in an Ageing Society - Implications for health, physical function and health service utilisation”

The full report is available here: http://tilda.tcd.ie/publications/reports/

To contact Dr Leahy, please call the media contact listed below:

Media Contact

Yolanda Kennedy, Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences | yokenned@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4337