safefood launches Stop the Spread campaign to tackle overweight and obesity epidemic

Denial as 2 out of 3 are overweight

  • Only 38% of adults believe they are overweight
  • 81% of men believe their waist size is within the “normal” range

10 May, 2011. safefood issued a wake up call aimed at tackling the serious health epidemic of overweight and obesity. New research commissioned by safefood reveals that being overweight is a much more common problem than we think, with only 38% of people (1) believing they’re overweight when in fact 61% are carrying excess weight (2). The new awareness campaign called “Stop the Spread” is alerting people that being overweight is now the ‘norm’, has become visually and socially acceptable and that we no longer recognise the fact that we are carrying extra weight. The campaign’s call to action is urging people to measure their waist to see if they are overweight.

Attending the launch, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care Ms. Roisin Shortall T.D. said “The issue of overweight and obesity is a major epidemic of our modern society and putting an enormous strain on our hard-pressed health services. We all need to take responsibility and re-assess our own personal weight and this campaign is a timely reminder to take that first step”.

Commenting on the campaign, Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood said: “This campaign should serve as a wake-up call to an epidemic that continues to spread. We need to realise what we think of as “normal” has shifted over the past 20 years; almost 60% of those we surveyed may feel they are a healthy weight but many of those are in fact overweight. We must all take a hard look at the facts, measure and know our waist and do something about it today.”

At present, 2 out of every 3 adults on the island of Ireland are overweight (3) however the new research reveals that 57% of adults (4) feel they don’t need to lose weight. So, a great proportion of the population are in denial, putting themselves at increased risk of well-known diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added, “It is well known that carrying excess weight around the tummy is linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases such diabetes and heart disease and more recently cancer. By measuring our waist, we can each get an early warning about our weight and begin to take steps to address it”.

safefood is asking adults on the island of Ireland 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.

Speaking at the launch, Prof. Donal O'Shea, who leads the Obesity Service in St Columcille’s Hospital Dublin, commented “I am delighted because this campaign is shifting the emphasis to overweight and not just obesity. Because we have edged up in weight over the last 20 years, most people who are overweight think they are just fine because they look “normal”. If you are overweight, all you might need to lose is 6 or 8 pounds – a couple of inches at the waist – to make a big difference to your long-term health. Too often, the focus is on the severe end of the scale where it can be really hard to make progress”.

The “Stop the Spread” campaign also addresses what is called the “social contagion effect”, where the chances of being obese are much more likely in a social circle either within a family or a network of friends. Research (5) has shown that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if they had a friend who became obese. If one spouse is obese, the likelihood that the other spouse could be obese increases by 37%.

Dr. Foley-Nolan added “We are all part of social networks and are influenced by the appearance and behaviour of those around us. Being overweight is now the “norm” and this norm is widespread in our communities throughout our families and friends. We need to stop the spread of this health epidemic by encouraging and motivating ourselves and others to reassess their own waist and weight, take realistic steps to tackle any excess weight, and begin to live a healthier future.”

The “Stop the Spread” campaign is a two-year, all island initiative by safefood and comprises television and radio advertising as well as a campaign ‘pledge’ website. Users can log on, learn how to measure their waist correctly and take one of five campaign pledges if they are carrying excess weight, and share those pledges with friends and family through social media channels like Facebook. safefood’s website also hosts a practical weight loss tool called Weigh2live and a healthy eating approach for families called Little Steps. Endorsed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the Ulster Chemists Association and the Professional Forum of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, the campaign will be supported by pharmacies and chemists across the island of Ireland where consumers can pick up one of 250,000 free measuring tapes from next week in participating outlets.

Consumers are encouraged to access support for sustained weight loss and healthy eating through whatever source they prefer – be this online, through their GP or other healthcare professionals.

- ENDS -

For further information please contact:

Aoife McDonald / Kate Fitzgerald,

WHPR Telephone: 01 669 0030 / 087 4100777(Aoife) and 086 3873083 (Kate)

Email: and


Dermot Moriarty


Telephone: 01 448 0622 / Mobile: 086 381 1034



(1)(4) safefood omnibus survey of 1,948 adults on the island of Ireland (safefood/Millward Brown Lansdowne; April 2011)

(2)(3) Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) National Adult Nutrition Survey; summary report March 2011.

(5) The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years; Christakis NA, Fowler JH; Dept of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston 2007.

Editor's notes

*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).

  • According to the IUNA National Adult Nutrition Survey 2011, among 18-64 year olds, showed that:
  • 39% of the ROI population were in the healthy weight range. However, a total of 24% were obese (26% men/21 % women) and 37% were overweight (44% men/31% women)
  • The prevalence of obesity in 18-64 year old adults has increased significantly since 1990 from 8% to 26% in men, and from 13% to 21% in women
  • 54% of men and 64% of women had a waist circumference greater than 37 inches and 32 inches respectively
  • In the past twenty years men have gained an average of 8kg (nearly 18lbs) and women have gained an average of 5kg (over 11 lbs)
  • The Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN 2007) of adults aged 18+ in the Republic of Ireland found that 60% of respondents had an average waist circumference in the “at risk” zone for obesity (>37 inches for men and > 32 inches for women)
  • In Northern Ireland, 35% of adults aged 16+ were overweight and 24% obese (Health & Social Wellbeing Survey 2005/06 (NISRA, 2007))
  • According to safefood’s Omnibus survey of 1,948 adults on the island of Ireland; o 96% of adults agree being overweight impacts a person’s health o 13% aware of cancer as a health condition associated with excess weight (Heart disease 82%/High blood pressure 54%/Type 2 diabetes 52%) o 67% agree that being overweight has a negative impact on the weight of family and partners o 81% of men claimed to have a waist size of less than 37 inches
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that over 700 million people will be obese by 2015.