Obesity a crisis of the elderly - report

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013

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Childhood obesity may be the popular health issue of the day, but the real crisis is among the elderly, a new report shows.

Those aged 65 to 74 suffer the highest rates of obesity in New Zealand, with almost two in five adults in that age group obese.

The Ministry of Health's annual health survey also shows people between 55 and 64 were just a whisker behind, with 37 per cent of people obese - compared to an adult average of 31 per cent. In most age groups, obesity levels were on the rise from rates in previous years.

University of Otago health researcher Jim Mann said the swelling numbers were the result of government inaction.

With the only public health initiatives funding sport and targeting mothers and infants, the rest of the population had been left to simply grow larger and larger, he said.

"It's doing absolutely nothing for the million of us with obesity who are alive."

He believed many of the obese elders would have carried the excess weight throughout their lives.

Now they were older, they would suffer many of the diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, associated with high body weight and sedentary lifestyles, significantly costing the public health system.

"And it's only going to get worse."

Associate Minister of Health Jo Goodhew said the Green Prescriptions scheme had had success with older people. Of the 4000 people over 65 given one by their health professional this year, one third went on to lose weight, she said.

This year, the Government announced it would boost the prescriptions initiative, which gives patients written advice promoting a more active and healthy lifestyle, by $1.8 million a year.

Mrs Goodhew said improved access to elective surgery, such as knee and hip replacement, was another Government priority that would keep people active in later life.

This year, there were also rising numbers of screenings for obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and heart checks, she said.

Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said a much more vigorous approach was needed.

The long-term obesity strategy, dropped by the National Government, needed to be resurrected and the epidemic must be made a funding priority, she said.

While many of Labour's policies, such as regulating advertising and marketing, targeted young people, she disputed health policies that saw currently obese adults as a lost cause.

"You don't abandon the adults. You think back to when they thought you couldn't stop people smoking."

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- The Dominion Post

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