Claims of a NZ obesity epidemic are 'fearmongering', says academic

Cat Pause says there is moral panic about obesity.
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Cat Pause says there is moral panic about obesity.

A Manawatu academic has slammed a warning about a projected spike in child obesity as "fearmongering".

A dramatic jump in the number of children considered overweight or obese is expected to hit New Zealand within the next nine years.

By 2025, it is expected  about 32 per cent of children will be considered overweight or obese, according to Australian and New Zealand obesity surgeons.

Surgeons are projecting that obesity will affect nearly one in three children by 2025.
SHOJIRO ISHIHARA 123RF

Surgeons are projecting that obesity will affect nearly one in three children by 2025.

Currently, the national average is 10.4 per cent of children.

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However, that projection has been criticised  by Massey University human development senior lecturer Cat Pause, who says such messages are dangerous when aimed at children.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Obesity Surgery Society of Australia and New Zealand made the projections and says both countries are at "crisis point".

OSSANZ president George Hopkins said the obesity epidemic was often referred to as a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

"But the reality is it already has."

By 2025, more than one in four Australian children will be considered overweight or obese.

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Hopkins said obesity had flow-on effects for the health system.

"There are strong links between obesity and a myriad of other health problems, including type-2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.

"Furthermore, obese people have a 50 to 100 per cent increased risk of dying prematurely compared to people of normal weight."

Pause said Hopkins was fearmongering.

"It feeds into the existing moral panic we are having about obesity. And it's especially dangerous when targeted at children.

"We are already seeing the effects of the war on obesity in kids – the hostility and bullying of fat kids, by both peers and adults – is increasing, as are the numbers of eating disorders being diagnosed in youth." 

Pause said there needed to be approaches to health that were independent of weight. 

"We can teach kids about health-seeking behaviours, without it being attached to fear or shame about weight. We can assess and measure the health of a population in many meaningful ways without using BMI."

Pause said society used weight as a proxy for health, which was not helpful for anyone.

Massey University School of Sport and Exercise senior lecturer Dr Sarah Shultz said there was no simple answer to what was causing obesity.

"It is a very complicated issue in a way that a lot of other conditions are not.

"With high cholesterol you can take medicine. There is no pill that is a solution for obesity.

"There is no one solution and what works for one person might not work for another."

Shultz said tackling obesity had to take into account mental health as well, and look into what was causing weight gain.

"It is not just about weight loss, it is about improving overall health."

Genetics, nutrition and urban planning were part of that.

Urban planning played a role by encouraging a sedentary lifestyle by having people driving everywhere.

Meanwhile, food that is good for you was often the most expensive, she said.

"People say 'they just need to eat healthy and go out and play'. That is what I have heard for years now. That's great but there are a lot of other pieces to the puzzle."

Particular sports were more popular than others and if children were not good at them it discouraged them from physical activity, Shultz said.

IPads and devices were also becoming prevalent from a young age and offered instant gratification.

A GROWING OBESITY PROBLEM

Figures from the Ministry of Health show 29.7 per cent of adults were considered obese, as of 2014.

Broken down by region, Counties Manukau was the top in the country with a rate of 37.7 per cent.

Waikato was not far behind on 35.2 per cent.

Bay of Plenty was 31.7 per cent.

Whanganui was 34.5 per cent.

MidCentral was 31.4 per cent.

Capital and Coast was 25.5 per cent.

Canterbury was 27.7 per cent.

Auckland was the lowest in the country with 21.8 per cent.

In children, 10.4 per cent were considered obese, as of 2014.

Tairawhiti topped the country with 21.2 per cent of its children classed as obese.

Waikato was 9.6 per cent.

Bay of Plenty was 8.6 per cent.

Whanganui was 18 per cent.

MidCentral was 9.7 per cent.

Capital and Coast was 9.2 per cent.

Canterbury was 4.8 per cent.

Wairarapa was the lowest in the country with 4.2 per cent.

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 - Stuff

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