An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Tuesday, May 24, 2005  

Obesity - ST

Here's this week's contribution....

Sarah Carey: Be fat, die young: it's policy now

On learning that I was breastfeeding, the doctor urged me to take omega-3 fish oil capsules. “Raise the baby’s IQ by four points!” he declared, brandishing a copy of the British Medical Journal.
Four points didn’t seem like a lot, but he was insistent: “You must do everything you can to make your children successful — it will make your old age much easier.” Within the hour I was at the health food shop clutching capsules.

I’m already making exhaustive efforts to raise advanced children. I police television, blend organic sweet potatoes at night and dangle psychedelic black and white cards on the buggy. The pressure is immense.

So it was a great relief when the National Taskforce on Obesity informed me last week that 300,000 children in Ireland are obese, joining those who, according to other government reports, are borderline illiterate, delinquent and permanently smashed on alcopops. Why should I worry about my children raising the bar if all the others are lowering it so much?

It’s a question of Darwinism, really. Natural selection will weed out the weak and the fat, and any kid who is thin and can stay sober most of the time is assured to be top of the pile. I can dump the capsules and the freezer-full of ice-cube trays of lentil and pear purees, and still count on my son the barrister/doctor/entrepreneur taking me on holidays when I’m 70.

I can’t be alone in my cocoon of schadenfreude. The government is probably quite pleased about the list of ailments that afflict the fat and hasten their demise. The Department of Finance must be relieved. They claim that treating obese people will cost €500m a year. Even if this figure is correct, and I suspect they just made it up, it is still in the best interests of the economy that people die sooner rather than later.

Old people, you see, are costing us a fortune. Between bus passes, medical cards and nursing homes, not to mention those pesky “bed-blockers”, they are nothing but a drain on the exchequer and the fewer we have the better. Last week’s hysteria over obesity simply replaced a pension panic. An Bord Pinsean, the silly pseudo-Irish name for the Pensions Board, is trying to scare us into saving up for old age so the government doesn’t have to.

Smoking helped for a time; smokers were most patriotic in their efforts to reduce the burden on the exchequer. Not only were they paying onerous taxes on their habit, but their early deaths relieved pressure on services for the elderly. There must have been a right panic in the finance department when the smoking ban was introduced. But it now appears as though sufficient numbers in the population are self-destructive enough to eat themselves into an early grave.

An astute caller to Liveline last week exposed the government’s true agenda. Underneath The Irish Times’s front-page article on the obesity crisis was a quarter-page ad detailing a recipe for roast leg of lamb with honey-orange glaze and port and mint dressing. Included among the ingredients was a suggestion to serve the said lamb with boulangere potatoes, which are made with generous quantities of butter and regatto cheese. My mother’s stupendous Sunday roasts are achieved by sticking the lamb in the oven with a bit of Frytex and serving it up with boiled potatoes and carrots. This recipe added about 40m calories to a potentially healthy meal.

Was this lethal concoction part of a promotion for an over-exuberant television chef? Had the ad been placed by a publisher selling yet another tempting cookery book? No. Underneath an article in which we were begged to eat less, the government placed an ad urging us to eat more. It was part of a multimedia campaign by another superfluous agency, An Bord Bia, promoting Irish lamb.

The ad was funded by the National Development Plan. Now, I thought the NDP was about building roads, but a lesser known use of our taxes is to build the revenues of newspapers by advertising food. It costs €7,500 to place an ad on the front page of The Irish Times and other parts of the €250,000 campaign are being aired on national radio. The minister for kebabs, Conor Lenihan, persistently tries to persuade us that we can’t afford to raise our overseas aid budget in an effort to feed the hungry. Yet there are ample funds available to persuade our portly population of their patriotic duty to eat more.

This duplicitous approach to the obesity epidemic was further apparent as schools became the latest target in the blame storm. A consensus emerged that the stoutness of students was owing to the curtailment of physical exercise in schools, coupled with the availability of fizzy drinks from vending machines.

The link between the daily traffic jams outside schools and the bored, fat teenagers in the people carriers seemed to escape the members of the obesity taskforce. Vending machines require money so that their evil contents can be extracted and I suspect that the students don’t have to mug anybody for their refreshments.

But then, the Irish have become expert at flinging money around. Now consultants will be employed at high cost to tell us how to solve the fatness problem. I say hold onto the dosh and follow the advice of Dolly Parton: “Honey, if you want to lose weight, take your head out of the slop bucket.”

posted by Sarah | 12:51 0 comments
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