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Survey confirms childhood obesity is a problem

Press Release 7 November 2003

Children’s Nutrition Survey confirms childhood obesity is a serious problem – So what is being done?

The release of the national children’s nutrition survey results today by the Minister of Health, Annette King, draws attention to the poor state of children’s nutrition in New Zealand. The results confirm what nutrition professionals and the New Zealand public have known anecdotally for some time. The results confirm that almost a third of children between 5 and 14 years are above a healthy weight, and one in ten children are obese.

‘There are already some very good programmes, both nationally and regionally out there to address children’s poor nutrition and physical activity,’ says Christina McKerchar, Executive Officer of Agencies for Nutrition Action.

“What we need now is a real boost of funding to make these programmes bigger and better.”

At the preschool level the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand has developed a Healthy Heart Award Programme for pre-schools. This innovative programme is designed to improve nutrition and physical activity in early childhood centers.

Most children will also be familiar with the 5+ A Day programme developed by United Fresh, to promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption. In the last two months alone, 5 + A Day resources have been distributed to around 1500 pre schools.

Te Hotu Manawa Maori, a national Maori health provider, has trained and developed resources for Maori health workers to improve nutrition within a Te Kohanga Reo Setting. There is also a range of local initiatives that work with ethnic specific preschools such as the Pacific Islands community gardening initiative developed by the Auckland regional public health service.

Programmes aimed at a school level include, 5 + A Day, the Heart Foundation’s School Food Programme and Jump Rope for Heart. The Walking School Bus programme, promoted by several local councils, is a national initiative to encourage children to walk to school, and there is also a similar strategy to encourage cycling to school. Many of these programmes are promoted to schools by local public health nutrition and physical activity providers who work with individual schools and parents. For example in Canterbury the public health nutrition and physical activity team has just developed a resource that shows the amount of sugar in drinks that are commonly consumed by children in order to encourage increased consumption of water and milk.

One of the problems is the lack of supportive environments for children, says Ms McKerchar. “It’s all very well having these great programmes but children quickly realise that what they are being told is not what their school promotes. Many children go to schools where vending machines sell fizzy drinks and the canteen is full of high fat chips and pies.”

As today (07/11/03) is also national ‘Push Play’ day many public health promotion teams have worked with regional sports trusts to develop initiatives to support children to be more active. For example in Thames today, preschools are participating in a community hikoi (walk) followed by a healthy 5+a day picnic lunch.

These programmes that support our children are often carried out with limited funding. Similar child nutrition survey results in Australia caused the New South Wales state government to commit $3.5 million to strategies to prevent childhood obesity towards the following programmes.

- $750,000 towards a healthy canteen strategy to make it mandatory for all State schools to provide healthy and nutritious food consistent with national dietary guidelines
- $1.5 million towards ongoing research and monitoring of the obesity trends and to evaluate the effectiveness of services and programmes.
- An out of school hours care sport programme is also being piloted.

“We already have some great initiatives in this area, and if these could be further supported with increased funding from the government we could really make a difference. Childhood obesity is a complex issue and the statistics will continue to increase unless we all do our bit as a community. Little things like driving carefully past schools at peak hours, and offering children water instead of sugary drinks will make a difference,” says Ms McKerchar.


Gardening in Pacific Island Preschool Centres

Auckland Regional Public Health Promotion and the Auckland Regional Council have been helping South Auckland communities to create vegetable and fruit gardens in Pacific Early Childhood Centres.

The gardening programme began in September 2001, involving the Samoan, Tongan, Niuean, Tokelauan, and Cook Island communities. The programme involves workshops with the centres, demonstrations and an evaluation of the gardens with a prize giving ceremony.

A factor in the programmes success has been Steve Benham from the Auckland Regional Councils Botanic Gardens who shared his gardening skills in the workshop sessions with parents and teachers. Everything from soil preparation, to seed selection, sowing, watering, harvesting, tools, health and safety and composting was covered. A wide variety of food, from citris fruit to strawberries and potatoes and lettuces to pak choi has been grown. The evaluations and prize giving for the best garden have been a good way to maintain the early childhood centers interest in the programme.

The gardens have proven a very practical way to increase nutritious food choices and provide regular physical activity. Produce from the gardens has become part of the children’s lunchtime diets, and is also circulated to the communities. The vegetable gardens have also become a useful focus for educational activities such as literacy, numeracy and the sciences.


Walking School Buses

The ‘walking school bus initiative’ was developed by EECA (Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority together with SPARC (Sport and Recreation New Zealand), to encourage active travel to school. Walking school buses encourage children that live in the same area to walk to school in a supervised group. An adult ‘driver’ walks around a pre -determined route and picking up children at ‘bus stops’ on the way. Walking school buses provide a number of benefits to a local school community, from the obvious like children being more physically active to things like the opportunity for people in local communities to get to know each other better.

For more information or resources on safe routes to school and walking buses see:


5+ A Day Programme

The national 5+ A Day programme has been encouraging children in early childhood education centres and schools to choose fresh fruit and vegetables every day for better for the past 9 years.

The programme has focused on awareness and has achieved as high as 88% awareness within the target audience.

The time is now right to move the programme directly into behaviour change to help address the obesity pandemic (the WHO has called for 5aday programmes internationally to be used as tool by health professionals worldwide).

5+ A Day resources are available to all education institutions and dispatches around 4000 kits nationwide each year.

The World Health Organisation in conjunction with United Fresh (NZ) Inc. are holding the 4th 5aday International Symposium in Christchurch next year to address the science behind the consumption of fruit and vegetables and how this can be turned in practice world wide.

For more information visit

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