Editorial: Society faces a growing problem

By Dylan Thorne

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We've known for some time that a sedentary lifestyle is a symptom of modern living and that this is changing the shape of New Zealand children.

Last week we reported that one in five New Zealand children are now overweight and one in 12 are obese.

A local dietitian says the number of clinically overweight children in the Western Bay has doubled over the past two years and more teenagers are presenting with Type 2 diabetes.

As has been noted before, while some children undoubtedly eat too much sweet and fatty food, what has changed markedly is their level of physical activity.

Childhood, which was once spent outdoors burning off energy, is now spent in front of TVs, game consoles or computer screens.

Their natural inclination to be active has been hampered by technology to a point where children's activity has fallen by a third in less than a century.

Experts recommend children get at least one hour of exercise a day. Twenty years ago the average child would have achieved that before the school bell sounded.

Structured exercise is seen as a chore by many children but traditional games of running, skipping and jumping, which have sadly fallen out of favour, are just as good for improving fitness.

Children are not alone in this trend, adults are also living less active lives.

The net effect of this change in culture is that excessive weight and obesity costs the country between $722 million and $849 million a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

The good news is this increase in obesity can be changed through lifestyle choices. The bad news is that it appears not enough is being done to reverse the trend.

New Zealand performs poorly on policies such as reducing junk food marketing to children, simple front-of-packet traffic light labelling on processed food and giving the food industry too much influence in developing public policies around food.

This must change but it is worth noting that while policy might be used as a tool to encourage healthy eating and exercise, it's ultimately a parent's responsibility to encourage their children to live healthy, active lives.

This can be as simple as turning off the TV, game console or computer and ushering a child out the door to play outside for an hour or two.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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