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Nation-Wide Study On The Food New Zealanders eat

Nation-Wide Study On The Food New Zealanders eat

MOST New Zealanders eat well, but many are getting fatter according to the Ministry of Health's report NZ Food: NZ People. Key results of the 1997 National Nutrition Survey.

"This report provides definitive information on the nutritional status of New Zealanders. It covers a very broad spectrum of issues and often provides data never before collected," says Dr Gillian Durham, Director of Public Health.

"For example it shows that 82 percent of New Zealanders eat bananas at least once a week, one percent of the population is vegetarian and one third of New Zealanders are trying to change their diet.

"The good news is that over two-thirds of the New Zealand population met the recommended vegetable intake of three serves per day and the energy contributed by total fat has decreased since 1989/90 for both males and females. But of more concern is that more than half of all New Zealanders are now overweight or obese.

The Survey Director, Professor David Russell, of the Otago University's LINZ Health & Activity Research Unit, emphasised the need to consider all of the results together.

"As Dr Durham points out, obesity is a major health issue facing New Zealand, but it is only one part of the puzzle.

"This survey and the associated National Health Survey have provided information, for example, on the availability of appropriate foods to groups in the population, the sources of energy and physical activity levels in the population. Many important issues can be addressed from the results.

"The Ministry's approach of not addressing issues in isolation is commended."

Professor Russell also said that the results and the approach to addressing the public health issues raised by the two surveys are a credit to the University of Otago and the Ministry of Health.

Dr Durham said the Food and Nutrition Advisory Committee would consider the results and advise the Ministry on possible action that could be taken to address the major issues raised by the survey.

"That action could include co-ordinated work with the Australian National Obesity Prevention Group, the International Obesity Task Force, the Hillary Commission's Physical Activity Steering Group and the Agencies for Nutrition Action."

The Ministry of Health already produces the Food and Nutrition Guideline series for seven population groups, which is promoted in the community by public health units throughout the country.

"On the ground level, we all need to remember that prevention is better than cure and healthy intakes of food can make a major contribution to our good health. The key messages for us all are: Eat a variety of foods; Choose and prepare foods low in fat, salt and sugar; Keep active; Drink plenty of fluids each day; If you drink alcohol, go easy."

Dr Durham said that finding out whether New Zealanders felt they had access to affordable and appropriate food was included in the survey because Government was concerned at some of the anecdotal evidence on some people having inadequate food for a healthy life.

"We addressed these hard questions in the survey and now we need to make sure this information is used to make a difference for those who are most affected.

"These results deal with issues that spread wider than just the health sector, and will be distributed to all Government sectors. The Ministry of Health will also ensure that results input into the Health Funding Authority public health area and explore the potential to address the issue of "access to food" in the Strengthening Families programme."

NZ Food: NZ People provides information on food and nutrient intakes, dietary habits and nutrition-related clinical measures of New Zealanders. The survey was four years in development, fieldwork and analysis and looked at 4,636 New Zealanders aged 15 years or above.

The survey contained several key elements: recalling the foods eaten in the previous 24 hours; questions to find out about common food practices; questions to find out if people had difficulty accessing adequate food for a healthy life; a variety of body measures like height, weight, body girths, skinfold thickness, elbow width and blood pressure; and blood samples for tests on cholesterol and iron studies.

Dr Durham said another national nutrition report would be commissioned in ten years' time, in the meantime a survey on children's nutrition is currently being developed and should be underway in 2001.


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