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Obesity epidemic and climate change

Obesity epidemic and climate change: similar problems, similar solutions

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council welcomes the release of the New Zealand Medical Association’s policy briefing on obesity this week, with the Council pointing to the similarities between obesity and climate change.

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) report identifies the devastating health and financial consequences of New Zealand’s climbing obesity rate with nearly two-thirds of adult New Zealanders now either overweight or obese. Almost a third (31%) of adult New Zealanders suffer from obesity, the fourth highest rate in the OECD, with another third (34%) being overweight. Obesity rates in children have jumped in just six years from 8% in 2006/07 to 11% in 2012/13. This means that obesity is set to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of premature death and ill health in New Zealand by 2016.

The NZMA report identifies the ‘obesogenic environment’ as the leading cause of the obesity epidemic, and calls for a raft of measures to reduce our consumption of processed and unhealthy foods, and to make it easier to get physically active most days.

“Many of the factors that are driving our growing obesity are also driving climate change,” says Dr Alex Macmillan from the New Zealand Climate and Health Council. “The expansion of fossil fuel extraction has led to mechanisation of transport and industry, and driven industrial farming practices that have all contributed to both growing obesity and climate changes,” Dr Macmillan explains.

The NZMA report calls for a multifaceted, whole of society response to the obesity epidemic – free from the influence of commercial interests. We urgently need a similar response to the threat of our changing climate to New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing.

The New Zealand Climate and Health Council explains that many steps to reduce climate-damaging emissions also help reduce obesity rates. “Healthy eating, that’s much more plant-based with less red meat and animal fat consumption, would significantly reduce food-production emissions,” says Dr Macmillan. “Walking, cycling and using public transport means more physical activity – which is good for weight management and good for climate,” Dr Macmillan adds.

“The Council hopes that this election will see smart new policies that respond to New Zealand’s urgent health and economic challenges of changing climate and growing obesity,” concludes Dr Macmillan.


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