Call to action in battle of bulge

Region's obesity crisis a growing problem

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 12/06/2014
Rocks Road.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
CHEAP EATS: Nelson College students Aidan Milne, 16, left, Jake Amlehn, 16, Kurt McCabe, 16, Mania Tawaka, 16, and Asher Wilkins, 16, at McDonald’s yesterday, say the low cost of junk food is a drawcard.

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Radical action is needed to stop a growing obesity epidemic, warn Nelson doctors and community leaders.

The warning comes after a New Zealand Medical Association report said the soaring obesity rate is now a "public health crisis".

In the Tackling Obesity report published this week, the association called for drastic cures to halt expanding waistlines, including taxing or minimum prices for sugary drinks, restricting food advertising aimed at children, and taking fast food out of schools.

The report wanted to see obesity tackled in everything from new building developments to school curriculums.

New Zealand was the fourth fattest country in the OECD, behind only the United States, Mexico and Hungary.

Nelson Marlborough medical officer of health Ed Kiddle said obesity was a major issue in Nelson, as it was through New Zealand.

He agreed with the report's findings that there needed to be a multi-pronged approach to the issue.

The report called for changes in schools, community, local and central government.

"We have major problems in New Zealand and we need to act now."

The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board (NMDHB) earlier this year took a step to tackle obesity by banning sugary drinks from cafes and stores in hospital grounds.

The Nelson City Council is currently reconsidering whether it should ban sugary drinks on council-owned property and at council-run events.

Nelson GP spokesman Graham Loveridge said recommendations in the report would be difficult to legislate, but he "absolutely" agreed with them.

Targeting children was the best bet to protect them from health issues as adults, but much of that was up to their parents and the community.

He said the NMDHB ban of selling sugary drinks was a great move, and one schools could also take on.

"The sugar creates the desire to eat even more, you get the extra calories from the sugar but it creates more hunger."

However, for this to work he said outlets selling sugary drinks outside school grounds would pose a problem. He wanted to see a ban put in place on selling junk food and takeaway food within half a kilometre from schools.

The biggest risks associated with obesity were developing diabetes, heart disease, joint diseases and cancers.

"The country will have to spend huge amounts of money to fix it, it's a humanity issue trying to help people be healthy, but also the financial implications nationally are huge.

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"To parents, a big message would be, don't let your child develop a sweet tooth, once you have it, it is hard to get rid of."

He said what people ate was important, but so was physical activity.

"We have designed an environment where the car dominates and people are far less likely to walk. Parents need to try and develop that habit in their kids, where walking in the preferential way to go and do something."

Father of three Matt Watson, who runs a "No Child Left Inside" programme in schools to get children more active, agreed.

"When I am teaching 5- and 6-year-olds, the most common things complained about is kids getting really tired, they have no stamina. It's a cycle with their unhealthy weight, they are unfit and that leads them to not wanting to do exercise and play because it's too hard."

Nelson city councillor Matt Lawrey said there needed to be "radical" change to the way New Zealand dealt with health.

"It's such a big issue. We are a country in denial. We imagine ourselves as being All Blacks and Silver Ferns, but in the words of Rachel Smalley, we are a bunch of lardos."

He said New Zealanders once laughed at Americans for their obesity and tendency to drive everywhere, but "now we are doing everything they have done".

Lawrey said he felt for families and said parents were up against multi-million dollar advertising companies trying to sell their children unhealthy food.

He wanted to see sugary drinks banned from schools and agreed with the report that food advertising for children needed to be tackled.

At McDonald's yesterday a group of five Nelson College students who had dropped in for lunch said they did not eat a lot of junk food, but the low cost made it appealing.

Jake Amlehn, 16, said he tried not to have junk food too often. He said he was pretty active playing rugby so would burn off the extra calories.

He had bought a large soft drink for $1. He said the school canteen was expensive, so if he wanted to buy lunch he would go to the dairy or McDonald's instead.

He and his friends said if taxes were raised on sugary drinks and junk food they would be less likely to buy them.

- The Nelson Mail

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