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Govt Not Attacking the Obesity Epidemic

Monday 6 December 2004

Government Tracking but Not Attacking the Obesity Epidemic

The report “Tracking the Obesity Epidemic” released by the Ministry of Health today provides more scary detail on the magnitude of the obesity problem in New Zealand. The report estimates that almost 1.5 million adults are overweight or obese. That is the population of Auckland and Christchurch added together.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) recognises the need for monitoring and research in the area of obesity and overweight and is pleased to have the size of the problem quantified but is disappointed by the Government’s continued lack of action on the problem.

“The Government appears happy to track the epidemic but not to tackle it,” says Celia Murphy, Executive Director of OAC.

“We have known about the obesity problem for years now. In 1997, the National Nutrition Survey told us more than 50 percent of adults were overweight or obese. Seven years on from receiving that worrying information we’ve had little more than talk. There is a plan but it has no funding. The Healthy Eating Healthy Action Strategy Implementation Plan (HEHA) looks very fine on paper but plans are no use without funding to make them happen,” says Ms Murphy.

The slight drop off in the acceleration of the increase in obesity in some groups indicated in the report does not mean the problem has been solved, she says. The prevalence of obesity is still on the rise and, as the report points out, this deceleration is likely to only be temporary. When the present generation of children - 10 percent of whom are already obese - grow up, the prevalence of obesity is likely to increase further. The prevalence of obesity in adults now is twice what it was in 1977 and the obese are getting fatter.

“There is no strong leadership and no money from government to make the HEHA strategy live,” says Ms Murphy.

“The health sector cannot solve this problem on its own – the whole of the Government and the whole community needs to work towards changing our unhealthy environment into a healthy one. This needs strong, decisive leadership and action.”

OAC believes public health workers around the country are doing wonderful work but so much of their good work is undermined by an environment that makes it really hard for people to make healthy choices and to maintain them as lifelong habits, Ms Murphy says.

Some of the things OAC sees as problems in our communities include: the ubiquitous availability of cheap, high sugar, high fat foods and drinks a constant barrage of advertising for high sugar. High fat, low nutrient foods that seduce people to believe it is normal to eat or drink these kinds of foods every day a school system that fails to make teaching nutrition and physical education a priority a food industry that adds a premium to the cost of healthy foods and which continues to develop and manufacture more and more low cost, high sugar, high fat, low nutrient foods food and hospitality industries that serve giant sized portions urban and roading plans designed for cars, not pedestrians and cyclists

All of these things make it difficult for the even most committed people to maintain a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.

“We hope this report will make the Government take some real action on this problem,” says Ms Murphy. “It needs to make money available, to take firm leadership to pressure industry to make the health of New Zealanders as important as the health of their profits and ensure schools are resourced and capable of teaching children lifelong healthy habits.”


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