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Opinion: As someone who was 27 stone at the age of 21, we need more than a sugar tax to fix obesity

If you walk into any shop in Ireland, there are so many problems with how the food is displayed and marketed, writes Alan Mullen.

Alan Mullen

IS SUGAR TAX really going to be the saviour for all our problems?

My name is Alan ‘Murph’ Mullen. I was on RTE’s Operation Transformation in 2015 as the youngest-ever male leader and also the heaviest leader on the show, weighing in at a whopping 27 stone at the age of 21. Before I signed up for the show I was really at an all-time low: depression, anxiety and just no self-confidence at all. I suppose you could say I was the icon for the unhealthiest teenager in Ireland. Trust me, it’s nothing to be proud of. But I  decided that enough was enough, and that I had to change my life before I started to severely suffer because of my weight.

Growing up I was always the big guy in the classroom, the guy that had to wear a bigger size than the rest of the class, the guy that was always the last to run around the hall when PE was on.  When it came to playing GAA I was always the last to be picked on a team unless they were stuck for players because I was the fat kid that wouldn’t be able to run around a field.

This is a major health issue

The government is now planning on putting a tax on sugar and just hoping, maybe, that it will solve the major obesity crisis in Ireland by itself – but in reality it’s not going to make much difference.  Instead, we need to educate kids at an early age about health and how vital it is to our life. My father always says that your health is your wealth, and he’s right. Kids should be taught about it from national school all the way up to third level.

Because let’s be realistic here: if you give any child in Ireland €5 to go into a shop and buy whatever they like, the first thing that comes into their heads is sweets, soft drinks and chocolate. They have no interest in going in and getting that bottle of water and an apple from the back of the shop. Even though they’re probably able to buy double the amount of healthy food with that €5, it’s in our heads to get that sugar rush and get that thrill.

Report call for sugary drinks tax Source: PA WIRE

If you walk into any shop in Ireland, there are so many problems in how the food is displayed and marketed: the first thing that meets you at many of the tills is a selection of bars and crisps (and I’m pretty sure the soft drinks aren’t too far away either). Being Irish, we have this mindset of automatically buying a deal in a shop when we see it, even if we don’t need it - for example, two cans of soft drink for €2 automatically sends our minds into a rush, making us think that it’s a great bargain, rather than thinking about the consequences.

I’m not a journalist, I’m not a super human being, I’m just a normal Joe Soap that has been around the block when it comes to weight problems, and my belief is that I would not like to see a child in the same situation as I was at the age of 21. Because it’s not fair to see anyone struggle to put on a pair of socks without getting out of breath or not being able to walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath because of what they ate and drank.

What the sugar tax could do

We need to get kids active and eating clean if we are going to beat this obesity crisis in Ireland. I’m not saying that we need to force this on people all in one go and expect them to learn straight away. Rome wasn’t built in a day – it’s going to take time to change the mindset of the next generation, but it can be done. It’s our mental strength that we need to build to be able to make the right decisions for our bodies. We need to be getting kids more active in school, not just the one hour a week for PE. It’s a known fact that exercise makes your mind a clearer, better place.

If the sugar tax does come into play, then let the tax be used to teach Ireland what we can do to prevent obesity. Put the money collected from the tax into schools to make them more active in all paths of life, whether it’s teaching the kids about food or getting them to do more exercise. I think without a shadow of a doubt it’s the only way we can prevent it from continuing for the next generation.

I really hope the government make the right decisions, not just for me and the next person but for the kids that have just started their life, so that they don’t have to worry about making unhealthy choices in the future.

Anyone with any questions or wants to follow my plan and see my progress can check me out here on Facebook, on SnapChat at Murphy1010, on Instagram  at @murph-mullen  and finally my new website:  www.yearofthemurph.com Until I see you again, enjoy your health.

Previous columns by Alan ‘Murph’ Mullen:

‘I weighed a colossal 27 stone aged 21. I was one of the fattest people ever on RTE’s Operation Transformation’

I’m going to reach my 16 stone goal. Not by being lazy, but with hard work and dedication

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About the author:

Alan Mullen

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