Irish Times – Over 60% of under-65s in Ireland obese or overweight, finds survey

More than 60 per cent of adults aged under 65 in Ireland are either obese or overweight, according to the results of a State-wide study released yesterday.

The National Adult Nutrition Survey, carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, also found that over a 20-year period, obesity in men increased three-fold.

Obese adults watched more TV than those who were overweight, according to the study, and they in turn watched more TV than adults of normal weight.

The difference was particularly marked among women, with those of normal weight watching 16 hours of TV a week on average while those categorised as obese watched 23 hours.

Some 1,500 adults aged 18 to 90 years took part in the study. They kept food diaries for four days and answered questions about diet and exercise.

As part of the detailed study they also had blood pressure checks, were weighed and measured, and gave blood and urine samples.
Obesity has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, particularly among men, with a rise from 8 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in the under 65s. In women, the increase went from 13 per cent to 21 per cent.

The highest level of obesity was found in men aged between 51 and 64, at 42 per cent.

Among those aged 65 and older, three-quarters of women and 85 per cent of men were overweight or obese. Among 18 to 64 year olds, just under 40 per cent of people were of normal weight.

People of normal weight also took more recreational exercise. Both men and women had similar levels of physical activity, but while men did more occupational and leisure activities, women were more active in household tasks.

The study, funded by the Department of Food, found Irish people ate too much fat and salt, and did not get enough fruit, vegetables and fibre in their diet. Women were not getting enough iron, calcium and vitamins D and A.

More than 60 per cent of Irish adults ate more fat than recommended. Salt intake was too high with foods such as bread and processed meat contributing.

The humble potato still formed an important part of the Irish diet, according to the study, with adults eating an average of 127 grams a day. But how it was consumed differed between age groups. Adults under 65 years ate twice as much processed, chipped or roasted potato as those over 65, who preferred their spuds boiled or mashed.

The two age groups showed a dramatic difference in their preferences for savoury snacks such as crisps; more than 40 per cent of the under 65s ate them compared to 5 per cent of the over 65s. Other staples such as bread, meat and dairies remained important. Those under 65 ate more processed than fresh meat.

Fruit and vegetable consumption was, on average, less than half the 400g daily intake recommended by the World Health Organisation. Fewer than 10 per cent of the under 65s and 15 per cent of the 65 plus group reached the target.

Despite a rise in cafe culture during the Celtic Tiger years, tea has remained the most popular beverage in the country. Almost 90 per cent of adults drank it.

The study also found almost a third of adults under 65 had been “binge drinking” – consuming six or more units of alcohol – on at least one food diary day.

Dr Anne Nugent of UCD’s institute of food and health, said the rise of overweight and obesity in adults must be tackled.

“Obesity is strongly related to diabetes and is also linked with increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, bone joint disorders and certain cancers,” she said.

There was a need to identify ways to help adults to adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits, she said.

Source: The Irish Times – 01.04.11
Journalist: Fiona Gartland