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Combating New Zealand's obesity epidemic

A visiting obesity expert last night presented New Zealand health professionals with advice on combating the obesity epidemic and a sobering perspective on the extent of the problem.

Professor Phillip James, Chairman of the International Obesity Taskforce, is in New Zealand for the 2nd Sanitarium International Nutrition Symposium where he acknowledged last night New Zealand is facing a nutrition crisis.

"This is no silver bullet solution in combating obesity, we need to start with families and system - then look at New Zealand as a whole," said Professor James.

Professor James says that the problem requires a multi-faceted approach and that key steps for New Zealand in the battle against obesity are:

1) Schools need to be transformed in regards to food and activity policies
2) Work place canteens and restaurants must be transformed in novel ways
3) Doctors need to provide strategies for women from pregnancy to breast feeding and weaning as a means of reducing propensity to obesity in their child.

"The epidemic is coming at us so fast, that unless we change the way we act now, in years to come we will be seen as irresponsible," he told a group of health professionals at the Sanitarium event.

New Zealanders are part of the global obesity epidemic with 37% overweight and 17% classified as obese. Between 1989 and 1997, adult obesity in New Zealand increased by 55%.*

Professor James added: "We cannot rely on Government alone and need an approach which involves health professionals, the food industry and societal groups".

Food manufacturers need to ensure that they are part of the solution to the obesity epidemic and are committed to producing and marketing foods that are relatively low in saturated fat and added sugar. "Our challenge is to persuade the food industry to take responsibility and also to get people to listen and respond to positive nutrition messages," Professor James said.

Sanitarium Nutrition Education Service Manager Kim Stirling agrees saying: "The food industry is responsible for what goes into the products people buy and that is enormous accountability."

Mrs Stirling responds directly to consumer nutrition queries including questions about practical solutions to weight issues.

"What is particularly concerning is the high number of overweight and obese children. The food industry must be responsible for its products and how it advertises them," she said.

Professor James was at the 2nd Sanitarium International Nutrition Symposium in New Zealand along with Professor Geoffrey Cannon and Professor Jim Mann. Held on the 22nd of April in Auckland and 18 & 19 April in Melbourne, the Sanitarium Symposium reached more than 500 Australasian health professionals.

For further nutrition information please call the Sanitarium Nutrition Education Service on 0800 100 257 or visit

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