Irish Medical Organisation

Doctors Highlight Urgent Need to Tackle European Obesity Crisis

June 1st 2010 – Embargo 7.00 p.m.

Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) and Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) will meet with representatives of the European Parliament today (Tuesday, 1 June 2010) to urge policy makers to work together to tackle the rise in obesity levels.

Both the IMO and the BMA (NI) are calling on EU Commissioners for Health to lead the way in establishing public health policy that is fit for purpose and based on the common values and principles that underpin all EU healthcare systems.

In particular, the organisations are jointly calling for measures to:

  • Educate, to increase understanding of what constitutes a balanced diet
  • Improve nutrition, through better access to healthier food
  • Encourage exercise and activity amongst adults and children
  • Stop advertising unhealthy foodstuffs targeted at children

Dr Paul Darragh, Chairman of the BMA’s Northern Ireland Council said, “Obesity rates in Northern Ireland have increased by 50% in a decade, raising concerns as to how we will cope with the resultant impact on both our health service and the wider economy. But this threat is not just confined to the island of Ireland – it is a global problem.

“Obesity is an extremely serious issue that can lead to a number of life-threatening and life-limiting health problems. Doctors have a role to play in supporting overweight patients and educating the wider public about the dangers of obesity but there is a limit as to what they can do.”

“While our organisations have been lobbying our respective governments for some time to take effective action on this issue in order to avert the possible consequences on our children's health in the future, we believe that a joined-up approach at an EU level would help defuse this ticking health time-bomb.”

IMO President, Professor Sean Tierney said, “It has been widely reported that poor diet and lack of physical activity are the leading causes of avoidable illness and premature death in Europe, and that the rising prevalence of obesity across Europe is a major public health concern.”

Prof. Tierney said, “In most EU member states, more than half of all the adult population is overweight or obese. It is estimated that almost 30% (around 22 million) of children are overweight in the EU and each year this figure is growing by 400,000. Obesity accounts for six of the seven leading risk factors for ill health in Europe.”

“Children and adolescents are an important target group for prevention. However, there is a need to be aware that adolescents may misinterpret messages about weight and concern for eating disorders needs to be considered. We strongly recommend that the focus for children should be to encourage them to be physically active and enjoy a wide range of physical activities,” said Prof. Tierney

A joined-up approach is essential. Public health capacity must increase. The government must work with food manufacturers and advertisers to help people improve their diets. People need to be given more opportunities to take regular exercise. What we should aim for is a society where all of us are able to make healthy choices.

Both the IMO and BMA believe that prevention is much better than cure. Good medical practice in the treatment of obesity requires emphasis on prevention. Obesity prevention programmes/strategies combined with early treatment will reap the greatest dividends.


For further information please contact:
Maria Murphy, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, IMO
Tel: +353 (0) 862514057

Sara Morrow, Public Affairs Officer, BMA (NI)
Tel: +44 (0) 7767 216 427

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