Obesity in New Zealand is a ticking timebomb and it should be classed as a disability, says Marlborough's new disability spokesman.
Ereatara Kokiri, 51, said in cases where obesity affected a person's long-term health or ability to work, it should be included in legislation as a disability.
It would strengthen rights against discrimination in the workplace and give those struggling with the condition a more powerful voice, Kokiri said.
"It is purely my own opinion . . . people who say obesity is self-inflicted have the right of freedom of speech," he said.
Kokiri is the newly-appointed Kaituitui who will highlight disability issues to lobbyists in the Disabled Persons Assembly, a lobby group for disabled people. Kaituitui means those who weave threads of knowledge.
Kaituitui will work on a programme for social change to implement the United Nations Convention on the Right of People with Disabilities.
Kokiri said he had been obese all his life and suffered from muscular deterioration for the last four years. He walks with the aid of a walking aid and crutches.
"I never believed I was disabled until I had a stroke. I have been obese all my life. It was the norm in my culture.
"I played rugby league where it was not unusual for huge guys to play. I refused to see myself as obese. I was in denial even though I couldn't see my toes."
At his heaviest Kokiri was 170kg.
He suffered his first stroke at 46 years old. In the last six years, he has had two strokes and two minor heart attacks.
"That was my wake-up call. When I was younger I did all the programmes and was given all the right advice. I didn't listen because I was still able to run around a rugby field.
"When I had a stroke I realised my body couldn't put up with the damage, I started to listen to my body."
Almost one in three New Zealanders aged 15 and over are obese, according to a 2012/13 New Zealand health survey.
Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass.
The survey said obesity in males had jumped from 17 per cent to 30 per cent in 16 years.
During the same period obesity in females had increased from 21 per cent to 32 per cent.
"Obesity is a ticking timebomb in New Zealand. If we are honest with ourselves every fourth person is overweight," Kokiri said.
"I am passionate about seeing a more just community where everyone can participate and feel included.
"I wanted to have a voice and to be recognised as a New Zealand citizen. People see the disability first, they don't see the person."
Kokiri is keen to hear from people with issues of employment, education, right to equal citizenship and access to information.
- For more information email Kokiri, email@example.com or call 03 5780537.