Experts fly in for obesity debate

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 18/10/2012
Obese
Reuters
GLOBAL PROBLEM: Fat experts from around the world are gathering in Auckland for the three-day conference.

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The big fat truth behind what's driving the obesity epidemic is up for hefty debate.

Auckland is hosting the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society conference this week, starting with a public discussion tonight on our role in breaking the cycle of flab.

Fat experts from around the globe are gathering in Auckland for the three-day conference.

The Ministry of Health estimates that one in 12 children and more than a quarter of adults are obese.

Scientists are expected to shed some light on what determines an adult's waist-line, the role our brain plays in hunger, as well as academics burning off some common fat myths.

Lectures will also reveal tricks in winning in the battle of the bulge, including the secret of sneaking vegetables into a child's meal.

Professor Wayne Cutfield, from the Liggins Institute in Auckland, said there were some common misconceptions about what caused middle-age spread.

People often blamed their genetic make-up and bad eating habits for the obesity epidemic.

However, Prof Cutfield said our genes only play a small role in the portly problems, and our later-life diet can actually be determined at conception.

"Events early in life are critically important."

Prevention of diabetes, heart disease and obesity stemmed back to the womb, he said.

Research shows that what a mother eats while pregnant can determine her unborn child's risk of developing obesity problems later in life.

But by exercising and eating well the mother can reduce her child's risk of bad eating habits.

Prof Cutfield said it was far easier to prevent weight gain at this stage, rather than turning the tide later in life.

"Once poor habits become ingrained they are much more difficult to break."

He called on greater health education for expectant parents, rather than the more controversial fat-tax, to ensure pregnant women and children eat well.

It would be naive to think we can win the war on obesity by slapping a tax on sugar and fat because exercise also played a big role, he said.

The lecture will be chaired by former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

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