NZ must face obesity epidemic

NIKI BEZZANT
Last updated 05:00 10/08/2014
Obesity / Obese
TOBY MELVILLE/ Reuters

EPIDEMIC: Just a third of Kiwis are a normal weight.

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OPINION: I've been thinking a lot about big issues lately. Specifically the biggest one we have (literally): Our serious obesity problem.

It's something we're all aware of, but not something, I think, we have been talking enough about. And we really, really need to talk about it, especially with an election on the way.

Let's talk about what we - all of us, not just the Government - are going to do about it. Before you close this window because this doesn't affect you, think again. Obesity doesn't only affect a few people in certain pockets of society.

About 1.5 million of us are technically obese, and another 1.3 million of us are overweight. That means that only a little over a third of us are actually a healthy weight. Most of us are too fat.

One in five of us has pre-diabetes, even if we don't know it. Within seven years, type-2 diabetes is going to cost $1 billion a year. That's a lot of money that can't be spent on other things we might find useful in the future.

We live in an "obesogenic" environment. That means everything around us sets us up to get fatter. We have easy access to a wide range of attractive, energy-dense, nutrient-poor food.

We're surrounded by persuasive marketing messages that sell that food to us. The easy, cheap option is more often than not the least healthy option. And on top of that we're more sedentary than we've ever been.

Is this how we really want to live? Do we want to live in a New Zealand where only a small minority are a healthy weight, and where the health system is overwhelmed with the cost of the consequences? Do we want our kids growing up with the expectation of being unhealthy and overweight by the time they're adults?

I don't want to be gloomy, but that's where we are heading if we don't try to make a change now.

The solution is not simple, of course. It is going to take a combined effort on the part of all of us: individuals, parents, educators, health professionals, community groups and the food industry as well as, yes, the Government.

Individual responsibility - something our current government is very committed to - is part of it. But the choices we make are only as good as the choices we have.

Grassroots community programmes are fantastic - but they're even better when there are policies aimed at creating a healthier environment to back them up.

The policies are on the table - they've been researched and recommended by a range of health experts. Examples are a sugary drinks tax; more funding for nutrition education; GST off fruit and vegetables; regulation of unhealthy food advertising to kids. There are other examples all over the world.

Maybe you have a few ideas yourself. Now's the time to bring them up. Let's question our politicians. Let's ask them, seriously, how they're going to help us turn the tide.

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- Sunday Star Times

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