Stop the Spread

Denial as 2 out of 3 are overweight*

safefood launches “Stop the Spread” campaign to tackle overweight and obesity epidemic in Northern Ireland

OnTuesday the 10th May 2011, safefood the North-South body responsible for promoting healthy eating and food safety on the island of Ireland issued a wakeup 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 42% of adults surveyed (1) believing they’re overweight when in fact almost 60%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.

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; over half of those adults 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 own waist size and do something about it today.”

At present, 59% of adults in Northern Ireland (2) are carrying excess weight, however the new research reveals that 53% of adults (3) 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 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Welcoming the safefood campaign, Mr. Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention, Ulster Cancer Foundation said: “Studies show that being overweight or obese can increase your likelihood of developing a number of cancers, but keeping active and eating healthily can help reduce your risk.  As two-thirds of cancers may be preventable through simple lifestyle changes, it’s vital that we all make physical activity and healthy eating a part of everyday life. Incorporating small changes into our daily routine like choosing to walk or cycle short distances rather than taking the car and choosing healthier meals can make a real difference in reducing our weight and our risk of cancer.”

safefood is asking adults to measure their waist* and know what their 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. The campaign is being supported by pharmacies across Northern Ireland and endorsed by both the Ulster Chemists Association and the Professional Forum of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland. >From next week, consumers will be able to pick a free measuring tape to measure their waist from participating pharmacies across Northern Ireland. 250,000 free measuring tapes are being distributed across the island of Ireland as part of the campaign.

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”.

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 (4) 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’re 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 at Users can log on, learn how to measure their waist correctly and take one of five campaign pledges if they are carrying excess weight, which they can also share with friends and family through social media channels like Facebook. Safefood’’s website hosts a weight loss tool called Weigh2live and a healthy eating approach for families called Little Steps.

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.

For more information, visit call 0800 085 1683 or email