How easy is it to cover up health inequality in the area of obesity? Strange as it may seem, quite easy, if we are to assess what is happening with accountability in the area of policy in Ireland at this time.
The Department of Health issued the “Healthy Weight for Ireland” policy in Sep 2016. A laudable, if ambitious, target was set of a “reduction in the gap in obesity levels between the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups by 10%.” There is significant health inequality in the area of obesity, meaning that if you come from a lower socioeconomic grouping, you are much more likely to experience obesity and the significant lifelong health impacts that it imposes. For example, the recent (November 2019) report of the longitudinal TILDA study managed by TCD and the ESRI (https://www.esri.ie/publications/growing-up-in-ireland-health-and-physical-development) shows this inequality clearly.
I was curious to know what the government is doing to report on and meet its targeted reductions in inequality. A Dáil Éireann question on the subject was raised this time last year by Sinn Féin
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2019-04-18/156/. The Minister said at this time that “A new Obesity Policy Implementation Oversight Group (OPIOG) was established in October 2017 and a progress report on each recommendation in the OPAP is currently being finalised under the aegis of the Oversight Group.” This group is chaired by the Department of Health and comprises representatives from other Government bodies and from UCC. The minutes for this working group do not seem to be available in the public domain but the commitment to deliver a report later in 2019 should have been sufficient to ensure transparency.
Another Dáil Éireann question on the subject, again raised by Sinn Féin, was made in March of this year. The Government responded by saying that the less than desirably entitled OPIOG had yet to produce a progress report, 30 months after it had been formed. I, for one, would be highly embarrassed to make such a disclosure of inactivity but perhaps this is part and parcel of addressing inequality in our society? Who is it that holds these public bodies to account?
In the absence of this long-awaited report, what conclusions might we draw? I imagine that the news isn’t good. Obesity remains a matter of considerable importance in health equality and social justice. It doesn’t, however, appear to be a matter high on the list of government priorities, to judge from the tardiness of a report in the area. And the lack of accountability is truly shocking. I believe that the people have a right to transparency and information in this important area of our society. I’m waiting, patiently, for their update.