There is a four-letter word in common usage these days; a word that we as children would be made wash our mouth out with soap if a snitch of a brother went home and said we used it. Today that word has gone respectable and welcomed in all social circles, due in part I would say, to its use by TV hosts like Bill Maher and John Oliver.

Contrariwise, there is a three-letter word which one dare not use in any circumstances. No Lads, the word does not start with ‘S’: but like our first word above, it too starts with the letter ‘F’. The word is ‘fat’ and the only time it may safely be used is in relation to a pay-check or a bullock fit for the factory. Be that as it may, I am once again willing to risk the wrath of Westmeath, by bringing the word ‘FAT’ aboard YCBS!

Like it or not, the fact is that Irish people are putting on too much weight. That weight is fat!

A survey on weight by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, found that 26 per cent of Irish adults were fat in 2019. This was the second highest in Europe. Further data from the same survey found that 56 per cent of us are ‘overweight.’

I wrote an article a few years ago entitled, ‘Don’t call me Fatso’, where I used well publicised and freely available data on the subject of obesity. Of all the 750 articles I have written for newspapers, I got more verbal venom over that piece than for anything else I have ever written. Talk about shooting the messenger!

But I have history ….

In the early 1990s, Bobby Begley had a sports shop in Mullingar. Bobby spent his lifetime involved in sports and fitness, as an athlete, hurler, team manager and sports administrator. A founder member of Mullingar Harriers Athletic, Bobby served on the Executive Committee of the Olympic Council of Ireland and was president of Irish Athletics. I recap these facts to show that the Waterford native knows what he is talking about.

At some local presentation, Begley passed a comment that a lot of kids were overweight and not as fit as children used to be. He could tell from selling sports gear in his shop that many parents were buying ‘aged 12- 14’ for their ten year olds.

A ‘Westmeath Examiner’ reporter got hold of the comment and talked to Bobby. I owned Mullingar Squash & Fitness Centre at the time and the reporter came to me and asked for my views on what Bobby Begley had said. At that time I was coaching 30 squash juniors every Saturday morning and I had been involved in Community Games and underage hurling. I totally agreed with Bobby’s comment.

Begley and I made the front page of the paper the following week. ‘TWO MULLINGAR EXPERTS’ (!!) claim that most of today’s children are unfit and overweight!’

Anyway, next thing Bobby and I were being interviewed on ‘Midlands Radio’, trying to defend the newspaper article. Begley did a bit of a PR back-peddle, stating ‘I am no expert.’ I stood my ground, but softened it to say it wasn’t easy for children to be fit and healthy when they are driven to school and parents cannot always find the time to involve them in sport. I also said that not every child loves sport, but that in my childhood, every child walked to school and that in itself was often enough exercise for the child.

During the following week I had to spend a lot of time explaining myself. I knew some of the parents – some I didn’t; but one thing for sure, nobody thanked me for suggesting that children were getting fatter. One woman said to me (half joking, I presume) “It’s not like it was in your day when you barely had enough to eat!” Two letter-writers to the ‘Examiner’ followed up the story by complaining that there ‘is nothing for children to do in Mullingar.’ This despite the fact that the GAA clubs, Rugby, soccer, tennis, swimming and squash clubs provided sporting and regular exercise opportunities for juniors.

That was thirty years ago and I don’t remember anybody highlighting the issue previous to Begley’s comments. The problem of obesity in children has become an awful lot worse since then. TV, computers and video games are a different world from when the kids of my generation would be told; ‘Get out and play and don’t come back in here until I call you!’ The other half of the equation is all about diet and what people eat – and how much of it!

Nobody can seriously argue that the problem of ‘fat’ isn’t getting worse. The kids that Bobby Begley spoke about are now the heavyweight runners-up in Europe …

Don’t Forget

The only known cure for ignorance is education.

Bernie Comaskey Books