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Annette King - Intake of Vegetables and Fruit

Hon. Annette King
17 June 2004 Speech Notes

Launch of Cancer Society Research on
Intake of Vegetables and Fruit

Welcome to the launch of Pulp Fiction --- the facts harvested.

This is not exactly a world premiere, and unfortunately we don’t have John Travolta or Uma Thurman or any of the other Hollywood stars from the Pulp Fiction movie here today.

Although maybe that’s not so unfortunate, in fact. I still associate John Travolta with Grease, and that’s certainly not what this function is all about.

In 2000 the Government identified nutrition, obesity and cancer control as priorities in the New Zealand Health Strategy, and two subsequent strategic reports, Healthy Eating; Healthy Action and the Cancer Control Strategy, have both highlighted the importance of eating more fruit and vegetables.

Now, thanks to the Pulp Fiction research, we have much stronger New Zealand evidence of what needs to happen to change attitudes toward fruit and vegetable consumption.

The purpose of this launch is to highlight the findings of the research, funded by the Cancer Society and Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC), so that we can all better understand the simple opportunities we have to improve our health by making wise choices about what we eat.

The research has revealed some serious information gaps. It seems that people know fruit and vegetables are good for them, but they don’t know just how good. They don’t know that eating enough fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of the most common health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, diabetes and hypertension.

The Cancer Society says low fruit and vegetable consumption contributed to 1559 deaths – that’s six per cent of all deaths – in 1997, and that if each of us started simply to increase our fruit and vegetable consumption by just half a serve a day, by the year 2011 we could prevent a massive 334 deaths each year.

I am grateful that the Society and SPARC worked together on this large postal survey in 2003. Of 14,000 households approached, there were more than 8,000 respondents, a very credible response rate for this type of survey. The survey covered both physical activity and intake of vegetables and fruit.

The aspect of the research we are focussing on today is the behaviour of New Zealanders who do not meet the Ministry of Health’s target of at least three servings of vegetables and at least two servings of fruit daily.

Carolyn Watts, the Society’s Health Promotion Manager, will describe the detailed results, but we already know that nutrition is a key determinant of preventable ill health and deaths. A recent study, Nutrition and the Burden of Disease, attributed 40 percent of all deaths (11,000 a year) in New Zealand to nutrition-related risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, intake of vegetables and fruit, and body mass index.

For protection against some cancers, including those of the colon and breast, New Zealanders need to increase their physical activity and they also need to increase their intakes of vegetables and fruit. Increasing the intake of vegetables and fruit is likely to improve the energy content of the diet, and this is also important for preventing overweight and obesity, which are also risk factors for some cancers.

Recent data indicates that the obesity epidemic here has not yet peaked. Preliminary results from the 2003 New Zealand Health Survey showed that more than half of adult New Zealanders are overweight and, of those, 20 per cent are obese. Nearly one third of children aged five to 14 years are overweight and, of those, just over 9 per cent are obese. Obesity levels are of particular concern with Mäori and Pacific adults and children.

Increases in obesity will result in an increased incidence of some cancers, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Earlier today I mentioned Healthy Eating; Healthy Action and New Zealand Cancer Control strategies. Next week I will be launching the implementation plan for Healthy Eating; Healthy Action, and I am also close to receiving the implementation plan for the Cancer Control Strategy.

The five-year Cancer Control implementation plan will identify priorities for action, and define the processes to lead, monitor and review the Strategy’s implementation. The final action plan will be released in December this year, and will set the direction for cancer control for the next five years.

The research I am launching today will certainly help in implementing Healthy Eating; Healthy Action. I understand that New Zealand is one of few countries to have such an integrated strategy in place consistent with the principles in the World Health Organisation’s global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, adopted at last month’s World Health Assembly in Geneva.

I certainly accept the need to keep reinforcing the message, at every available opportunity, that eating more fruit and vegetables is good for the health of all of us.

Almost daily there are reminders of the way obesity is becoming an increasingly real and increasingly grim feature of our society.

In recent weeks, for example, we have all heard reports of DHBs talking of the need to buy larger and stronger equipment, such as beds, operating tables and wheelchairs, to cope with the increase in obese New Zealanders.

And, just last week, many of us were horrified by the documentary on Houston, the so-called Fattest City in the United States. There’s no way we ever want to see television documentary-makers heading to a New Zealand city to produce a similar film.

Eating fruit and vegetables is such a simple solution to help improve the good health of all New Zealanders. And there are so many simple ways in which people can achieve the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day: fresh, frozen, canned or dried.

I acknowledge the research comes with a call for funding over four years to improve New Zealanders’ knowledge of the value of increasing their fruit and vegetable intake.

Such funding decisions will have to be made in conjunction with the Healthy Eating; Healthy Action implementation plan, and will also to take into consideration what individuals, communities and industry, along with the Government, can contribute to such an approach.

Thank you again to the Cancer Society for the invitation to launch this research today.

I believe it is a pivotal piece of work, and the Society and SPARC can be proud of what they have achieved. Pulp Fiction can consider itself well and truly launched.

ENDS

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