A survey coinciding with today's launch of Massey University's new College of Health has found one in three New Zealanders thinks obesity is the biggest health issue facing New Zealand.
More than 1300 people took part in the survey, with 33 per cent ranking being excessively overweight as the country's most significant health issue.
Cancer was second at 12 per cent, followed by access to good healthcare at 11 per cent and lack of exercise at 10 per cent.
Smoking was the fifth-biggest health issue at 8 per cent, followed by heart disease with 7 per cent and diabetes with 6 per cent.
Massey vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said the poll showed New Zealanders knew poor diet and lack of exercise had serious implications for health.
Add growing inequalities, an overstretched workforce and an ageing population to the mix, and New Zealand, like the rest of the world, was facing serious health challenges, Mr Maharey said.
"It's important that universities respond to these challenges now and provide the leadership for the future. The launch of the college demonstrates our awareness of the need for a transformational shift in contemporary approaches to healthcare, from what is now being recognised as an unsustainable focus on treating illness to a focus on promoting wellness and avoiding the need for costly treatment."
The college's research and teaching would look at measures that could enable people to live healthy, productive and independent lives, Mr Maharey said.
"New Zealand can no longer afford to keep focusing on treating or managing illness. Through innovative research we can learn more about prevention and what keeps people well.
"Our researchers are already undertaking major obesity and cancer-related studies and our experts will strive to find solutions to big health issues.
"They will work together to create a world where most of the illnesses we have today no longer exist. Where illnesses like asthma, obesity and diabetes are as foreign to us as polio is today."
The college has 310 fulltime staff and 2000 students and brings together specialists from public health, Maori and Pasifika health, sport and exercise, rehabilitation, nursing, social work and social policy, food and nutrition, occupational health and medical laboratory science.
It will also work with the wider health community - through centres of research excellence such as the Riddet Institute on Massey's Manawatu campus, medical schools and other universities, district health boards, local government and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and Unesco.
Professor Paul McDonald, an internationally acclaimed public health specialist, was appointed as the college's pro vice-chancellor last year and joins Massey next month.
- Manawatu Standard
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