‘Fat Chance in An Unequal Society’ – The Correlation Between Inequality & Obesity

The relationship between inequality and health is often discussed in a negative light in any given society. This assignment will provide evidence on how the choice of food and nutrition are both major social determinants of individual’s health, beginning at birth, where our diet is chosen by our parents all the way up until adulthood where our own consideration comes into play. This assignment will also discuss obesity in terms of its effects and solutions. Obesity is often caused by our lifestyle choices, eating habits, and levels of activity. There is a clear correlation between the rich and poor when it comes to obesity. Both child and adult obesity will be investigated through statistics over recent years, it will provide an insight into the growing epidemic that is obesity.

Food and nutrition is something which we make decisions on each day. As infants, the nutritional intake is taken care of by a parent or guardian but then as we grow up and turn into adults we then determine our own nutritional intake. Good health is no longer viewed as a prerequisite but rather a state of wellbeing which must be maintained.  Nutrition or lack thereof is one of the primary causes of common diseases and consequently disability and dying prematurely. Policy makers are acutely aware that their decisions regarding food and nutritional policy can greatly enhance a populations health and even in socioeconomically challenged countries simple improvements in food production and availability can make a significant difference in the overall health of the nation. In 2006 Marmot and Wilkinson stated many diseases in the population are caused by poor nutrition and this has been verified by copious amounts of research. The World Health Organisation in 2007, found that out of seven major risk factors associated with premature death, six of these are directly linked with Diet and physical activities. We can see below in that the frequency of eating fruit and vegetables in Ireland is poor. Fruit and vegetables are one of the main sources of nutrition in any balanced diet and as we know poor nutrition directly affects poor health.

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Obesity in Ireland is becoming increasingly common and with obesity comes a lot of health issues that make everyday life increasingly difficult. Wilkinson and Pickett argued in their 2009 book The spirit level that this epidemic is not caused by the makeup of our genes but in fact by the way which people live and the way people wish to raise their children.  There is a strong correlation between income inequalities and rates of obesity. The more stable a family is with their income the less likely their kids will become obese. Obese people are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure which all have potential to lessen their lifespan and reduce their mobility. From recent studies completed by Renew Bariatrics in 2017, we can see that one in six children are obese and one in two adults are now obese in Ireland. If kids were provided with healthier food and an exercise routine from a young age this could massively prevent any life effecting illness occurring when they are older and could reduce the obesity rate. The 2009 OECD report on obesity claims that breastfeeding as a child has been proven to reduce the likelihood of obesity in kids. Children who are obese may feel isolated from doing things with kids their age as they can’t go out and play with their friends and self-esteem issues are not uncommon in many obesity cases. The graph below shows that in Ireland in 2015, 37% had a normal weight, 37% were overweight and a further 23% were obese.

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It is clear that obesity has become a growing problem not only in Ireland but around the world. Obesity brings with it many health issues, negative effects in quality of life and concerns for healthcare expenditure in Ireland. Obesity among adults and children has become a health crisis in many countries across the globe. In 2016 Cullen explained how studies have shown that Irish men have the highest BMI in Europe. When looking at statistics for both the world and specifically Ireland regarding body mass index, there has been overall a huge rise in BMI rates since the 1970s until present and these numbers do not seem to be peaking anytime soon. Along with high adult obesity rates, Ireland’s child obesity rate has also been up to six percent of children being obese in Ireland and a high percentage being overweight. From the Growing Up in Ireland Survey which set out to ask questions about child and parent’s health and BMI from a sample of the population, we can see that adult and child obesity are clearly linked. Walsh & Cullinan explained in 2014 how the role of education is of great importance in regards to the obesity crisis. The more educated the parent, the lower the percentage of obese and overweight children in that category. Also, mother and father’s BMI affected the outcome of their children’s BMI. The higher the BMI of either parent, the higher the rate of obesity and overweight children. Judging from these studies, parents’ occupation, level of education and whether they are overweight or obese all affect the weight of their children. There have been some attempts at solving this growing concern for Ireland in relation to food, like introducing sugar taxation and higher taxation on unhealthy food and drinks but no such effort has been made with encouraging exercise. We can see below how physical activity is significantly less common with obese individuals.  


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We believe it’s evident that severe action must be taken in order to combat the issue of the obesity epidemic. We can see that Ireland’s obesity rate stands at 25.6%, which is currently on the increase, Irish men have been calculated to have the highest BMI figures in the EU, and health problems related to obesity such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are all becoming more consistent issues. Society is left vulnerable to numerous negative health impacts due to obesity and the correlation between economic inequality and obesity is massively apparent. Various policies have been introduced in an attempt to reduce levels, such as sugar taxation but there is further progress to be made and the nation must be educated accurately on this rising epidemic in order for change to occur.

Nadine Byrne Mcneela, Teigan Lawlor Gannon, Mairead Sweetnam, Niamh Doyle, Alana Coyle

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