Battle of the Bulge

Photo credit: Kingsford.comAs Ireland’s obesity problem intensifies Helen Carroll examines how UCD can tackle the cheap fatty food trap.[br]IRELAND is on its way to an obesity epidemic. We are set to become one of the fattest countries in the EU by 2030. Irish men are forecast to be the heaviest in Europe, tipping the scales with 89% estimated to be overweight or obese. Irish women are not faring any better, with 85% estimated to be overweight or obese by 2030.Often the first experience people have of cooking and feeding themselves independently is during college. This can make students vulnerable to the harmful cycle of cheap, poor quality and high calorie food that does them more harm than good.Ireland was the thinnest nation in Europe after World War Two. Food shortages meant that putting on weight and being overweight or obese was seen as a good thing; a sign of wealth. People have not been letting their family go hungry ever since, and have thus been loading plates with cheap food to fill themselves. Certainly this isn’t the healthiest, but it is understandable.Nevertheless, going from the thinnest nation in Europe in 1945 to being predicted to being the fattest in 2030 (in just under 100 years) is an alarming increase that should be tackled at every level.It can be hard to keep a healthy diet. For students, who made the move away from home for college, the time to cook a proper, nutritious meal every day is often not there. Parents can’t be there to have it ready for them when they come home. This means that students often fall into the never-ending circle of quick food they can eat on the way between lectures. Chicken fillet rolls, muffins and flavoured milk are recurring vices.People give many excuses for eating these unhealthy foods. The range goes from not enough money to afford the (often far more expensive) healthy salads and sandwiches, wanting something quick to eat, or simply forgetting to prepare food in time for when they’re hungry. Many also do not know the correct nutritional information they need to make the right decisions regarding what to eat. It can be so easy to fall into the quick fix trap. So while it may be easy to have a ready list of excuses for an ever expanding waistline, a want to implement a solution to the problem is of the utmost importance.Thus, we have to ask ourselves, should rules be enforced on campus to actively promote and implement a healthy food only policy?In UCD, you can’t buy Coke. The drink was removed by campaigners, who highlighted the human rights abuses of the company. All well and good, but for much of the campaign the health effects associated with the drink were ignored. It is highly likely that removing unhealthy food from campus would be met with serious opposition. Students may not have the income for ready-made healthy food and may not have the time to prepare their own cheaper alternatives at home.There is also the fact that if a list of foods were drawn up to be banned due to their high levels of saturated fats and general unhealthiness, the famous chicken fillet rolls would be included. These are seen as a UCD staple food, and it would be nigh on impossible to remove them completely due to inevitable outrage.If enforcing strict rules regarding what we can and cannot buy on campus is not viable, an education campaign by the Students’ Union would do wonders. The official endorsement by them saying that we need to eat healthy could really drive the message home. By combining the message that we need to eat healthy along with a need to exercise, it would further reduce the daily consumption of unhealthy food and benefit our bodies in the long run.It is also possible that requiring all food in UCD to be labelled with the amount of calories in it would be beneficial, as often people do not know how many calories and grams of fat, sugar and saturates are in the food they are putting into their bodies. These days, even food that appears healthy may be very high in calories; a salad coated with dressing or a deli sandwich can be high in fat.No one wants to be obese – to take years off a life and struggle with basic activities due to a lack of basic food education. It is likely that, given the push, many people would actively start seeking out healthy alternatives to the food they are currently eating.Ireland is forecasted to be the fattest nation by 2030, but we have fourteen years to change that forecast and prove it wrong. It takes an attitude adjustment towards food and can be tough for many to change long-established habits, but won’t it be so worth it.