Politicians join forces to ‘Stop the Spread’

MLAs line up to tackle Northern Ireland’s weighty issue

20 September, 2011. A cross-party group of MLAs today signed up to an eight-week programme to lose some weight and improve their lifestyles.

The initiative was organised by safefood, the body responsible for promoting healthy eating and food safety, and forms part a major two-year, all-island awareness campaign called “Stop the Spread”, which urges people to measure their waist to see if they are overweight. At present, almost 60% of adults in Northern Ireland are carrying excess weight.

The Northern Ireland Assembly members, which includes Jim Wells of the DUP, Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew and the UUP’s Basil McCrea, are among the first MLAs to put their names forward in a bid to raise awareness of the serious health epidemic associated with being overweight.

Michelle Gildernew, Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee, said:

“Obesity and excess body weight is a significant public health issue in the six counties today. Politicians, as well as the public, need to be aware of the dangers associated with being overweight, including the risk of long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. 

“Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight should be a long-term goal and not just about fad diets. By coming together as a group and with one another’s support, we can work together towards a common aim – to lose weight and become more aware of our diet and physical activity.”

Jim Wells, Deputy Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, said:

“As politicians, we can all play our part in promoting public health in Northern Ireland, including addressing the issue of weight and this starts at our own table. We urge every adult in Northern Ireland to wrap a tape around their waist and find out how they measure up.”

safefood is asking adults to measure their waist** and know what their true waist size is – having a waist size greater than 32 inches for a woman or 37 inches for a man is a clear indication that a person is carrying excess weight.

“Working long hours, the stress of balancing a job with finding time to fit in be active and eating at irregular times are all issues facing many people right across society today,” safefood’s Director of Human Health and Nutrition, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said. “It’s wonderful to see this group of well-known faces in Northern Ireland politics agreeing to participate. Not only will this group hopefully lose weight and become healthier, they are sending out the message to everyone that reaching a healthy weight is extremely important and achievable. With almost 2 in 3 adults in Northern Ireland overweight or obese¹, many people battle with weight loss and being overweight can increase the risk of common diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers, in addition to psychological issues. ”

The “Stop the Spread” campaign is a two-year, all-island initiative by safefood and comprises television and radio advertising. Thousands of free measuring tapes will also be made available over the next few weeks.

As well as attending a weekly ‘weigh-in’ where they will receive health tips and nutritional advice from safefood experts, participating MLAs are also being encouraged to use safefood’s free online weight loss website, Weigh2Live and participate on the Weigh2Live Facebook (www.facebook.com/safefood.eu) page and connect with others trying to lose weight.

For more information, visit www.safefood.eu or call 0800 085 1683.

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Editor's notes

MLAs taking part in the 8-week programme include John McCallister, UUP, Health Committee Member, South Down; Jim Wells, DUP, Health Committee Deputy Chair, South Down; Judith Crochrane, Alliance, East Belfast; Chris Lyttle, Alliance, East Belfast; Basil McCrea, UUP, Lagan Valley; Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Feinn, Health Committee Chair, Fermanagh & South Tyrone;   Oliver McMullan, Sinn Fein, East Antrim; Cathal O hOisin, Sinn Feinn, East Londonderry; Stephen Moutray, DUP, Upper Bann; Danny Kinahan, UUP, South Antrim.

¹In Northern Ireland, 35% of adults aged 16+ were overweight and 24% obese and more than one in four of children aged 2-15 years were found to be either overweight or obese (Health & Social Wellbeing Survey 2005/06 (NISRA, 2007))

**To measure your waist correctly, feel the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hipbones; your waist lies between these 2 points, normally where your bellybutton is. When measuring your waist, it’s important to remember it’s not where your trousers sit (or the waist size of clothes you buy).

For further information please contact:

David Cullen    
Tel: 028 90 80 2000 and 07919 598 710 


Dermot Moriarty
Tel: +353 86 3811034