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PM: Mission-On Launch

Thursday 21 SEPTEMBER 2006

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister


Mission-On Launch

Aotea Centre

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to this event.

Let me acknowledge the special mix of people here today. We have the Health Ministers from the Western Pacific region, our young people from Auckland, and their guests from Tonga and Fiji.

Welcome to you all.

I won't spoil our young people's thunder, but I know what they will demonstrate over the next two hours is a great example of lives lived to their full potential.

We are here today to launch Mission-On, a new $67 million government-wide package of initiatives to help New Zealand's children and young people become healthier, so they can lead active and successful lives.

Mission-On will give young Kiwis and their families the tools to improve their nutrition and increase their physical activity.

As a result, New Zealand will be much better placed to prevent obesity and reverse the declining levels of physical activity among young Kiwis.

As a country we have seen continuous gains in life expectancy and improvements in health throughout our history. We have built a national identity and an international reputation on the back our fit, healthy and active image.

From Edmund Hillary and Peter Blake, to our All Blacks and Olympians, our icons have been symbols of health and vitality, taking advantage of what New Zealand has to offer to build active lives. This is how the world has seen us.

Over the past seven years this Labour-led government has invested in our families to ensure our young people are better educated, better housed, in better health, and better supported.

Despite this, it's getting harder to be healthy. Children and young people in New Zealand live in an environment that offers them a huge number of options for sedentary leisure activities; there are increased barriers to physical activities; and greater availability of energy-dense foods.

Given these factors it's hardly surprising that more young Kiwis are sedentary and are making poor food choices, and that more of them are becoming overweight or obese.

An epidemic of obesity threatens to undo the significant progress made in improving our health and our quality of life.

More than 50 per cent of New Zealanders are now either overweight or obese. Most alarmingly, more than 30 per cent of our children can already be classified the same.**

Unless something changes, the current generation of New Zealand children may very well be the first to die at a younger age than their parents.

An epidemic of type 2 diabetes is already placing a huge burden on our health system and society. Significant numbers of children are now presenting with the disease, something that had been previously unheard of.

This issue is potentially the greatest single threat to the health of New Zealand families, and our biggest public health challenge.

We are not alone in that threat. Obesity has become one of the most pressing health challenges across the developed world.

We all have a responsibility to do something – within our homes, our schools and our communities.

For this Government's part, in this year's Budget we announced we would be undertaking a campaign to fight obesity.

Today's announcement is the first step in this campaign.

Mission-On is a package of new initiatives to help our children and young people make healthy choices about what they eat, and to be more active. It is this generation which - unless we get on top of this issue - may be the first in New Zealand to experience a decline in life expectancy

That's why action now is a top priority.

These initiatives are aimed at everybody from birth to the age of twenty-four. Children and young people need to establish healthy behaviours during their early years so they can lead healthy lifestyles after they leave their school and family environments.

They need to understand about the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle – good food choices, occasional 'treats', and being active – so that when they reach adulthood they stand a much better chance of being healthy.

The Mission-On campaign has a broad range of initiatives which will contribute to this.

The first initiative aims to improve nutrition within the school and early childhood education environments.

Schools and early childhood education services, along with parents and communities, have an important role to play in helping children and young people gain the skills and habits they need for a healthy life.

New guidelines will be developed to help schools and early childhood education services provide healthy food options for students, including a food and drink classification system.

School boards will support this by developing policies that promote and achieve healthy nutrition, and reduce the consumption of unhealthy food and drink.

Teachers will receive professional development support, and there will be a social marketing campaign to back up the changes, including a toolkit for use by schools.

A programme of high-profile health promotion events will start in 2007 to encourage healthy food options, and to actively involve students in learning about good nutrition.

A network of high-profile ambassadors will be created who will model healthy, positive lifestyles in a way that children and young people will relate to.

The ambassadors will promote healthy choices by visiting schools, offering advice through websites and featuring in the social marketing campaigns that will support this programme.

Websites will be developed for each age group, and will be designed to engage them in active learning about the nutrition choices and physical activities that result in healthy lifestyles.

The websites will offer a range of interactive features such as competitions, and also provide access to coaches, trainers and virtual buddies.

Radio and television programmes will be used to encourage children and young people to think about their lifestyles, to discuss the issues confronting them, and to make healthy food and physical activity choices.

At the same time, the advertising industry will need to keep working on decreasing children's exposure to the advertising of less healthy foods.

In April this year the Advertising Standards Authority announced the results of a review of the industry's codes for advertising food, and for advertising to children.

Changes have been made which start to recognise the need for advertisers to take special care when advertising to children, to uphold the role of parents in educating their children, and not to mislead about the nutritional value of any food.

For example, celebrities must no longer be used in advertisements to children in ways that undermine healthy diets, and advertisers must ensure their advertisements do not encourage children to eat or drink 'treat' foods inappropriately, or in excess.

More needs to be done, and the industry will be expected to make further progress in this area.

Getting children and young people away from the TV and computer screens not only limits their exposure to advertising, but also means there is more time to be active.

Sport and Recreation New Zealand will lead a campaign promoting 'screen-free' time which will be launched later this year in association with its successful "Push Play" social marketing campaign.

Making changes toward a healthy lifestyle is challenging. SPARC's Green Prescription programme will expand to allow more Kiwis, especially children and young people and their families, access to this service.

This programme gives GPs and practice nurses the option of prescribing physical activity, referring suitable patients to qualified people who assist them to become healthier and more active.

Central government will also make changes. State sector employers will be 'getting active' by taking steps to make healthy nutrition and physical activity accessible, convenient and fun for their staff.

The Ministries of Health, Education, Youth Development, and SPARC, who have jointly developed Mission-On, will be the first to step up to this challenge.

Finally, policy makers will be required to carry out Health Impact Assessments when developing new policy and legislation.

To summarise, the Mission-On package contains a broad range of initiatives to prevent obesity by improving nutrition and reversing the declining rates of physical activity among young Kiwis.

This issue is being approached from the point of view of children and young people because their acceptance of the need for change is the key to success.

The Ministers of Sport and Recreation, Education, Health and Youth Affairs will work together to implement this package because it’s a campaign that needs everybody on board to succeed.

With the right resources, young people their families, and their communities can act together to make healthier choices.

The goal is a new generation of fit and healthy New Zealanders. The journey needs to start today.


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