Auckland doctor quits battle against obesity after achieving 'nothing'

Dr Robyn Toomath has lost hope in winning the fight against obesity.
Maarten Holl/Fairfax NZ

Dr Robyn Toomath has lost hope in winning the fight against obesity.

A trailblazer in the battle against obesity is giving up her fight after conceding defeat.

Dr Robyn Toomath said she had achieved "nothing" since setting up the Fight the Obesity campaign in 2001.

In that time New Zealand's obesity rates had continued to climb - almost one in three adults was obese and one in 10 children.

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"I don't see any justification for continuing," she said.

The website she set up, Fight the Obesity, would be shut down.

Toomath - Auckland Hospital's clinical director of general medicine - set up the campaign after treating an increasing number of children with type 2 diabetes.

It was the illness of a fellow campaigner that forced her to rethink the campaign after 14 years.

Robin White, the executive officer for the group, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

After reflecting on the past 14 years, Toomath said they felt they hadn't achieved any progress.

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"An idiot is someone who is doing something when it's not working, but the real idiot is the government, which has remained firm on its stance of personal responsibility," she said.

Toomath has repeatedly called on the Government to use regulation to cut obesity rates, including restricting the advertisement of junk food and implementing a sugar tax.

In a book due to be released early next year, Toomath argues people are genetically predisposed to gain weight so dieting was doomed to fail.

Yet the Government continued to operate as if putting people on a weight loss programme would work, despite the evidence against it, she said.

Research showed 85 per cent of people who dieted regained the weight within five years.

"The vast majority of people who start weight loss programmes will drop out," she said. "It's not their fault."

There were huge levels of blame placed on overweight people who were unfairly labelled as lazy and dumb, she said.

"We have to develop a more compassionate response to people with obesity."

The Government announced in October a wide-ranging package to tackle childhood obesity, which included referring more overweight children for dieting and exercise interventions.

It comes as obesity was set to overtake tobacco next year as the leading preventable health risk.

Critics slammed the government's plan for watering down the advice of experts.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, a paediatrician, said the moves would not cut obesity and could even harm children.

Toomath agreed and said we needed a different approach.

Although she was stepping down, Toomath said she hoped the public would be inspired to force the Government to make changes.

"I want to motivate the overweight in the community. This battle shouldn't be lead by advocates like me. It needs to be lead by civil unrest."

 - Stuff

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