AT THE time of year when we are all trying to lose a few pounds Deputy Patrick O’Donovan is proposing putting euros on the price of video games to combat the growing obesity problem.
When the former teacher was doing his training one of his pupils was a 7 year-old boy weighing nearly 11 stone.
“He couldn’t physically fit in to the desk, his parents couldn’t get a uniform to fit him. There are children going in to hospitals where the only remedy is a gastric bypass,” said Mr O’Donovan.
Since he was elected a TD one of the issues he has focused on is childhood and adult obesity.
“Twenty five per cent of three year-olds are obese, one third are overweight. The way we are heading at the moment we are going to be the most overweight country in the world,” he says.
The annual cost to the exchequer of obesity related diseases is €4 billion, says the deputy.
“The rate that we are getting bigger is frightening. Type 2 diabetes is at epidemic proportions in Ireland. The cost to the exchequer is enormous from heart disease, obesity related cancer, the psychological damage, mental health etc. It’s a huge, huge problem and it’s not being taken seriously at all,” said Mr O’Donovan.
“Operation Transformation is on at the moment and it’s great but it a January phenomenon and by February it is forgotten about,” he adds.
Mr O’Donovan has a number of proposals including putting a health levy on video games.
“I will be bringing it up with the Minister for Health in the new Dail in light of all the games that have been sold during Christmas. They should be viewed as a treat but some children and adults are spending days in front of their Playstations, Wiis or X-Boxes or whatever.
“They are vegetating in front of them and there is an addiction there that needs to be looked at. I know it would be massively controversial,” said Mr O’Donovan, who adds that the levy wouldn’t apply to games that encourage players to be active.
Other proposals he has in mind to reduce the combined weight of the nation is making PE an optional Leaving Cert subject and a prominent figure to lead a campaign like Gay Byrne does on road safety.
“We don’t need a politician like Pat O‘Donovan telling people we need to get slimmer, we need an obesity ambassador. After January all the talk of diet and exercise is gone but every month you have Gay Byrne and the RSA hammering away and the proof is last year we had the lowest road fatalities since records began,” said Mr O’Donovan. As well as the physical effects of weight gain there is the mental side.
“There is nudging and winking going on and that’s making the problem worse. People say ‘you lost a load of weight, you look fantastic’. The reverse is you looked desperate when you were overweight.”
Mr O’Donovan hopes to organise a seminar on obesity with the Minister for Health; Dr Donal O’Shea, who runs an obesity clinic and students.