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New Zealand Weighed Down By Obesity Burden

06 December 2004 Media Statement

New Zealand Weighed Down By Obesity Burden

Obesity is now twice as common in New Zealand adults as it was 25 years ago according to a comprehensive report into obesity trends prepared by the Ministry of Health and released today by the Under Secretary for Health, Mita Ririnui.

"Obesity has long been recognised as a major health issue, but this confirms what we have long suspected. New Zealand is in the midst of an obesity epidemic," said Mita Ririnui. "We know that obesity has a huge impact on people's health."

He said the report is one of the most thorough and comprehensive descriptions of a national obesity epidemic produced for any country.

Tracking the Obesity Epidemic: New Zealand 1977-2003 contains data from four national nutrition and health surveys. It tracks changes in the body mass index (BMI) of New Zealanders aged 15-74 years from 1977 to 2003 by gender, age and ethnicity (Maori/non-Maori).

Mita Ririnui said the report provides a solid evidence base for future policy and planning and a wealth of information that will be critical in further implementing and evaluating the Ministry of Health's Healthy Eating-Healthy Action strategy.

"Excess body weight is one of the most important modifiable risk factors in major diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and several cancers. We need to be concerned and we need to take action," he said.

Although this report does not include data on children, results of the 2002 National Children's Nutrition Survey show that 10 percent of school age children are now obese. Other studies suggest that obesity has been increasing rapidly in children over the past decade or longer.

"Increasing our efforts to monitor and control childhood obesity is critical for the health of future generations of adults," said Mita Ririnui.

The report shows the prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled in the last 25 years - from about 10 percent of the adult population in 1977, to 21 percent in 2003. The "epidemic" grew relatively slowly in the 1970s and 1980s, then accelerated rapidly in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. It continued to grow from 1997 to 2003 in most population groups, although it did appear to slow in some women and Maori.

Data for Maori from 1989 to 2003 indicates a broadly similar pattern to the general population, although differing in details. In particular, the growth of the epidemic appears to have slowed among Maori of both sexes from 1997 to 2003. However results for Maori are especially uncertain due to small numbers of Maori participants in the earlier survey. Despite this, the prevalence of obesity remains higher in Maori than in the total population.

"Tracking the Obesity Epidemic provides a more comprehensive picture of the obesity epidemic than has previously been available," said Mita Ririnui. "Although it takes a national view of the problem, it can assist District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations who have a critical role in working with those under their care to bring this epidemic under control."


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