The obesity rate for Taranaki children - 22.1 per cent - is double the national rate, which is 10.7 per cent, according to data from the 2011-13 NZ Health Survey.
"These obese kids are going to face all sorts of health problems in the future including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, osteoarthritis, gallstones, gynaecological disorders, sleep apnoea and depression," Taranaki District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Jonathan Jarman said.
He could not explain why there was such a large difference between the Taranaki figure and the national rate. It could be a blip in the statistics.
The obesity rate for adults in Taranaki is 27.1 per cent compared with 29.1 per cent for New Zealand adults.
Obesity is measured by the body mass index scale, which is simply a ratio of one's weight in kilograms divided by their height in metres squared.
A report published this week revealed New Zealand was the fourth fattest country in the OECD, behind only the United States, Mexico and Hungary.
Jarman supports the New Zealand Medical Association's call for the Government to take measures to help curb the problem, such as taxing fizzy drinks. "There is concern that we are going to have an avalanche of chronic disease in the near future which will overwhelm our health services," he said.
And the Heart Foundation wanted all political parties to step up to the plate before the election and say what they were going to do about the obesity epidemic, Taranaki Heart Foundation health promotion co-ordinator Anne Berrie said.
Fizzy drinks had been identified as being the main problem because the drinks supplied sugar and nothing else.
"In other less healthy foods there may be some health benefits because they may have some nutrients and minerals, but with these drinks it's just empty sugar." Children should drink water or milk, they didn't need anything else, Berrie said.
"Energy drinks, which have 25 teaspoons of sugar in a bottle, are designed for extreme athletes. They're not designed to be drunk because you happen to be walking to school or have done a junior level soccer game."
The 2011-13 Health Survey also had data on the level of diagnosed diabetes in Taranaki, Jarman said.
"Currently one in 20 adults [5 per cent] in Taranaki has diagnosed diabetes which is similar to the national rate of 4.4 per cent."
When thinking about solutions it was useful to consider what had changed in the last 40 years. "There is now a lot more access to cheap energy-rich nutrient-poor convenience foods. Food advertising is everywhere. Fast foods and sugary drinks are everywhere. We now live in what has been called an ‘obesogenic environment'."
The challenge was to make the healthy choice the easy choice, he said.
"How do we make it easy for people to walk, ride their bikes, not be bombarded with food advertising, not be surrounded by fast food outlets, and able to buy cheap nutritious food?"
Solving the obesity problem sounded easy - people just needed to eat less calories and to increase their physical activity.
"However, no country has been able to crack this problem. It has been scientifically proven that education in itself does not work," Jarman said.
- Taranaki Daily News
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