Why New Zealanders are still among the fattest people in the world

Why are we fat? We have more fast food outlets per capita than almost any other country, among other things.

Why are we fat? We have more fast food outlets per capita than almost any other country, among other things.

New Zealanders walk an average of almost four kilometres a day, according to new research by Stanford University. Sounds pretty decent, right?

Unfortunately, at 4,582 steps a day we pale in comparison to many other nations (even Americans, who take an average of 192 more steps than us). Australia and the UK beat us too, alongside almost every country in Europe and Asia.

Perhaps we can put this down to our car culture – few people walk to work, unlike a city such as Hong Kong (inhabitants of which take the world's most steps a day at 6,880).

Regardless, the Stanford study finds that the total amount of steps a person walks in a day doesn't have much of a correlation to overall obesity.

* How did NZ get so fat?
* Fighting fat in NZ
* Move over obesity, the new problem is 'overfat'


You're probably breathing a sigh of relief: Kiwis aren't that lazy after all

We go to the gym, we ride bikes, we swim, we play sports... all things that don't count in daily steps.

Unfortunately, New Zealanders are still fat. Really fat.

In 2016, Kiwis were found to be the chubbiest of 11 nations surveyed by Cigna 360° Wellbeing Score research, and we're also in denial about it. We underestimate how overweight we are on the whole, we're used to seeing children who are fat, and we're not comfortable accepting the word "obese".

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And we're getting worse: in the latest 2017 research, our general health score is 1.7 per cent lower than last year. How on earth have we become so large around the middle?


Swedish research has found that overweight mothers are nearly three times more likely to have overweight children than non-overweight mums. Sometimes this is down to lifestyle choices, but it can also be genetic: The Auckland-based Maurice Wilkins Centre is currently researching how 500+ genes affect your appetite and the way your energy metabolism is controlled.

Some genes have already been discovered in other studies; for example the gene CREB R.F helps explain why 80 per cent of Samoan men and 91 per cent of Samoan women are overweight or obese.


Between November 2016 and May 2017, more than 2000 four-year-olds were diagnosed as obese in New Zealand in before-school screening programmes.

Children's high activity levels are vital in preventing obesity as adults (University of Auckland researchers have found that exercise in early life counteracts some of the damaging programming effects of a high-fat diet), but as one third of Kiwi children is already considered overweight of obese, we're not giving them a fighting chance with critical early-life intervention.


According to the Ministry of Health, only 10 per cent of secondary school pupils meet the daily youth exercise recommendation of one hour per day.

Sixty-five per cent of teenagers are also watching more than an hour of television every day, while 28 per cent watch more than three hours. Additionally, 32 per cent of male teenagers (but only nine per cent of females) in New Zealand can be found gaming for more than three hours a day.


Australian research published in the Lancet journal in 2014 points the finger at the low level of regulation in Australasia for junk food manufacturers.

With no sugar taxes in place and an advertising and marketing environment geared towards consumption of "junk drink and junk food" (alongside the relatively low cost of such food compared to fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy), processed and unhealthy food is literally everywhere.

No wonder one-third of Kiwis have sugary drinks in their fridge and we have more fast food outlets per capita than almost any other nation on the planet.


We're known as a sport-playing nation, but that's seemingly just a lie we tell ourselves.

According to Cigna 360° Wellbeing Score research, we don't actually play sport. We watch sport. A minuscule four per cent of Kiwis actually play rugby, and seven of 10 rugby fans can be medically classified as overweight or obese.


Statistics NZ data shows that less than 50 per cent of Kiwis overall participate in physical exercise. The most active groups overall are18-24 and 25-44 year old males (53.8 per cent are active), while the least active groups are 15-17 and 75+ year old females (33.6 and 29.9 per cent active, respectively).

Statistics NZ and the Ministry of Health defines "active" as "at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or moderate-intensity physical activity (or equivalent vigorous activity), for at least 10 minutes at a time, at least five days a week", but more than half of us aren't even doing that minimum amount.

* Comments on this story are now closed.

 - Stuff


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