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Creating a culture of change


NEW APPROACH In Ireland we must also find our voice and demand that those who govern for us make the right and necessary decisions to promote health and wellbeing.

The time has come to make our voices heard in the corridors of power

Paul O'Brien

YOU may not know it, or have heard of the term before, but we live in an obesogenic environment. Simply put, this is an environment that effectively promotes obesity in individuals or populations. More alarmingly, it is the result of the influences impacting our food and surrounding environments that cause us to make poor lifestyle choices.
We are drowning in this obesogenic sea. Processed foods account for more than 70 percent of the produce in our supermarkets. For families operating on a tight budget these foods are more affordable. The marketing of many of these foods as quasi-healthy exasperates the situation. We are bombarded by messages of ‘low-fat’, ‘high-fibre’, ‘no added sugars’. Both the economics and the confusion surrounding what constitutes healthy food lead to consumer apathy. We fall back on trusting the food industry and our government who are, surely, there to protect our health?

Toxic times
Unfortunately, the problem is worse than we might imagine. We sit more and move less too. We spend 50 percent less time on our feet than my parents’ generation. We are led by people who do not prioritise our health and wellbeing. Policy is too often short-term and the people it is aimed towards are mere numbers in an equation where increase in what each person contributes to the bottom line is paramount. Gross Domestic Product, and driving it, is the rule of law.
Our built environment has also become increasingly toxic. We are surrounded by all kinds of toxins in our homes, in our food, our domestic cleaning products, our personal care products and our water. We are more exposed to these environmental toxins than ever.

A cultural paradigm shift
Is there a way out? Can we reverse this worrying trend and create a health-promoting, symbiotic environment, where there is genuine give and take with the world around us? I believe so. The place to start is in your home. Placing a priority on movement is a good start. Forget about ‘exercising more’. Just go and do something you enjoy. Think in terms of play rather than ‘working out.’
To reduce your exposure to food toxins, buy local produce and avoid pre-packaged, processed foods, particularly if they have been flown half-way across the world. Check out your local markets, plant a few simple herbs and support local producers. Consider a water filtration system and stop drinking from plastic bottles. In fact, aim to cut back on your plastic by 50 percent this month.

Power to the People
Last month, the New Zealand government announced a breakthrough budget. For the first time, the budget has put social wellbeing indicators ahead of GDP in making spending decisions. This has come as a direct response to a public groundswell for change. This is a paradigm shift.
In Ireland we must also find our voice and demand that those who govern for us make the right and necessary decisions to promote health and wellbeing.  These goals must become our true north.
We need to become our own decision-makers, individually and collectively. Our policy makers then do the job of enacting our demands. Isn’t that a democracy? In the future, political representatives who do not prioritise these principles must be removed from positions of influence, or not elevated there in the first place.

A legacy
The decisions we make now must not be for ourselves but for those who come after us. We must decide to become role models in our lives, caring for our health and wellbeing so that our children can do likewise. The result of doing nothing is a haunting scenario. Imagine you are lying on your death bed, surrounded by your children and grandchildren. The world is in crisis.
The planet’s ecology has nose-dived, global warming and its effects are a daily reality. Most of the world’s population is overweight and despite advances in technology and science, we are still getting sicker, dying earlier and have a lower quality of life.
We feel disconnected. Sitting at your bedside, one of your grandchildren asks you: “What did you do to try change all of this?”. What will your answer be … ?

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or