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Obesity takes its toll on New Zealanders

Research shows that poor diets are killing more people in New Zealand than tobacco. It is one of the biggest problems the country is facing at the moment and yet, we barely talk about it.

In just a generation, we have moved to low-quality processed foods that are heavy on sugar, fat and salt, and light on the nutrients that our body needs.

As a result, more than one in four New Zealanders is obese.

Obesity brings with it other problems, like diabetes and heart disease.

Deadly disease

Heart disease accounts for more than 40% of all deaths in New Zealand annually, several times more than road accidents.

It is the single most common cause of death; a tragedy and an economic burden that New Zealand cannot afford.

It is not just an adult problem; a third of New Zealand children are either overweight or obese.

It is not just a low socio-economic problem either: poor nutrition is a burden on our health system, it is a crisis that will soon swamp our hospitals, and we will also pay for it through our taxes.

It is a problem that is finding its way into all our communities.

The Indian community is facing some of the same risks.

Clearer labelling

I recently interviewed Geoff Simmons on Planet FM.

Geoff is an economist and a researcher for the Morgan Foundation. He recently co-wrote a book with Gareth Morgan, called ‘Appetite for Destruction: Food – The Good, The Bad and The Fatal.’

We talked about the importance of clearer food labelling, so that people can tell at a glance what is healthy and what is not healthy.

I would like to see nutrition taught in all our schools so that our children grow up understanding how to grow and cook food, and (just as crucially) what is in the food that they buy from supermarkets.

That is why I have a ‘Food in Schools Bill’ before Parliament (see separate story on Page 6 under Educationlink).

Increasing obesity

The last Labour Government stipulated that only healthy food could be sold to children in schools. The current Government has changed that, allowing unhealthy foods into schools and therefore, child obesity has predictably increased.

We can do a lot more. Nutritional education for children and clear labelling of foods can help people choose healthy foods over unhealthy processed food, and make available healthy foods in schools.

It is a problem that New Zealand cannot afford to ignore.

I want to see it addressed properly.

David Shearer is elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert and Labour Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Energy

Some disturbing fa(c)ts

The New Zealand Health Survey (2012-2013) found the following:

Adult obesity

Almost one in three adults (aged 15 years and over) were obese (31%), a further 34% were overweight

48% of Māori adults were obese

68% of Pacific adults were obese

Increase in obesity in males from 17% in 1997 to 30%

Increase in obesity in females from 21% in 1997 to 32% in 2012/13

Child obesity

One in nine children (aged 2 to 14 years) were obese (11%)

Further one in five children were overweight (22%)

19% of Māori children were obese

27% of Pacific children were obese

Children living in the most deprived areas were three times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas. This finding is not explained by differences in the sex, age or ethnic composition of the child population across areas of high and low deprivation

The childhood obesity rate increased from 8% in 2006-2007 to 11% in 2012-2013.

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