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Obesity a Whole of Society Problem; Not Just Pregnant Women

Obesity a Whole of Society Problem; Not Just Pregnant Women

The New Zealand College of Midwives welcomes the acknowledgement by Government of the obesity problem, reinforced by news this morning that the Health Minister is planning to announce a major programme to combat obesity.

NZCOM CEO, Karen Guilliland sounds a word of warning however, following indications in the media that pregnant women will be a focus of the plan.

“We have not seen the plan or been involved with its development but obesity in New Zealand and amongst pregnant women as a part of our society, is not new. If the reporting is correct we are concerned that “focusing on pregnant women can risk discrimination and is not in itself the whole answer,” she says.

“Of course women are responsible for their own health including their weight” Ms Guilliland says “but over the last few years public health policy has increasingly targeted pregnant women to take responsibility for what is in effect a range of social ills.

She adds that healthy pregnancy is also a time for love and excitement and women are constantly facing a barrage of health advice which can increase their stress. A stressed mother is also detrimental to the baby so it is essential we get the balance right.

NZCOM Midwifery Adviser Alison Eddy says it’s essential that the obesity problem is looked at as a big picture, not a thumbnail.

“This is a societal problem,” she reinforces. “It’s not early enough working with pregnant women. We are seeing already overweight women becoming pregnant. There's a lifestyle change that needs to happen before a woman becomes pregnant and that requires education, support and a whole society focus. It is also essential to include strategies which support breastfeeding within obesity programmes as breastfeeding provides a foundation for healthy childhood weight,” she says.

The College says all of these health messages take time to develop and effectively implement, and midwives are already working with multiple issues related to pregnancy and birth (including obesity) without any additional funding or support.

“There needs to be a number of tools in the tool box to deal with obesity, including general education, additional support for midwives working with women (in the form of information for women and referral to nutritionists where needed), and dedicated nutrition and lifestyle services to which women can continue to access after the birth of their baby,” says Karen Guilliland.


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