Gastric bypass surgery for teenagers may increasingly be needed as New Zealanders lose the battle of the bulge, health experts warn.
Traffic-light food labelling and fat-taxes were also among the fat-fighting tactics raised at an international obesity conference in Auckland at the weekend.
The population's rates of obesity and diabetes are both increasing and occurring at younger ages, with people ignoring the message to eat less and exercise more, the conference heard.
One in three Kiwi women and 40 per cent of men are now overweight.
Health professionals put forward a range of reasons for the slide towards obesity, from a mother's diet determining her child's future weight, to poverty driving poor eating habits.
The power of food companies' marketing also came under fire.
University of Auckland associate professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu said consumers were often baffled by food labelling and struggled to make informed health choices.
Relying on people exercising self-control was not working, she added.
"We've failed because our focus is on the individual to make healthy choices."
She called for a large-scale trial of either traffic lights or a star rating food system, which would rate food based on health factors.
Star-rating labels in parts of the United States resulted in a significant increase in people buying healthy food, she said.
The controversial fat-tax was also discussed at the conference.
Professor Wayne Cutfield, director of the Liggins Institute in Auckland, said the world's first fat and sugar tax failed to make its mark in Denmark.
In January, the Danish Government introduced higher taxes on beer, wine, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and cream.
However, the government was now reviewing the fat-tax after an outcry over manufacturing job losses and shoppers buying bad food across the country's borders.
Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said obesity was a complex issue, and it could not be solved by over-simplified food labels or slapping a tax on unhealthy food.
"You can't pass laws to make people eat healthily."
Food companies were already backing healthier lifestyles, including offering diet options and sponsoring school exercise and breakfast programmes, she said.
Australia and New Zealand are both part of a review of food labelling policy and a special advisory group is expected to report to the Government next month.
Those who are fighting obesity say the food industry has too much say on government policies. Obesity Policy Coalition spokeswoman Jane Martin said commercial interests were being put ahead of health when it came to food labelling and marketing.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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