Children need urgent obesity prevention support

18 December 2013

New Zealand’s lack of commitment to childhood obesity prevention programmes and policies is clearly failing this generation of children, according to a University of Auckland obesity expert.

Figures released by the Ministry of Health show that 10,000 more New Zealand children are classified as overweight or obesity compared to last year.

“Our rising rate of overweight and obesity to almost one in three children is shocking compared to Australia’s rate where it appears to have plateaued out at about one in four,” says Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health at the University of Auckland.

“Pulling the plug on funding for the Healthy Eating Healthy Action programmes and allowing the junk food industry free rein over our young kiwis is unfortunately creating a sad legacy of increasing diabetes and chronic diseases.”

“The recent Health Committee report on improving child health outcomes and the Government’s assessment of the Healthy Together Victoria programme in Australia for its potential adaptation for New Zealand are very welcome signals that things may change,” says Professor Swinburn.

This continued upward trend compared unfavourably with many OECD countries, including even the United States, where overweight and obesity among children is either flattening or decreasing, he says.

“This government has progressively disinvested in obesity prevention, especially in programmes promoting healthy food choices, and key policies recommended by the World Health Organisation, such as restricting unhealthy food marketing to children and having healthy food policies in schools, remain unimplemented.”

New Zealand’s weight problem has now overtaken smoking as the biggest contributor to the burden of disease. In 2006, overweight and obesity cost the health system $624 million and a further $100-200m in lost productivity, yet the investment in prevention is tiny, he says.

“From the official information figures we obtained for 2012, the health system spends about $29m on population nutrition promotion, or about 0.2% of Vote Health. This is less than one twentieth that the health system pays for the consequences of overweight and obesity,” says Professor Swinburn. “I am sure people would think it is crazy to invest only one dollar in prevention for every 20 dollars we spend on treating the consequences of obesity.”

New Zealand signed up in May this year to WHO’s Global Plan for Action to reduce Non-communicable Diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  The plan includes a set of highly cost-effective interventions for governments to implement.

High on the list of such policies are taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food which Mexico has just implemented and front of pack labelling like the traffic light system that the UK and Ecuador are implementing.

“New Zealand needs to get back into the forefront of public health to stop this rise in childhood obesity,” says Professor Swinburn. “The evidence is compelling, the strategies are agreed, the public is highly supportive, and children and their parents are clearly losing the battle of the bulge. Some government leadership and commitment to support them is long overdue.”

 

For more information contact:

Suzi Phillips , Media Relations Advisor Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences The University of Auckland Email s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz Phone +64 9 923 7383 or Mob 021416396

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Watch Professor Boyd Swinburn speaking with TV3