Govt's 'weak' effort on obesity earns couch potato title

By Martin Johnston

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Government has won the first transtasman Couch Potato Award because of its weak leadership on efforts to reduce obesity.

The award was announced yesterday by the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society during its conference in Auckland.

Previously the society had used the award to shame Australia's worst-performing state or territory governments, but this year put the acid on the central governments on either side of the Tasman.

The awards, which measure obesity policies and programmes, are judged by society members and public health experts from each country.

Jane Martin, head of the society's public health subcommittee, said Australia's performance was better than New Zealand's but both countries failed to score highly in any category, despite their high rates of obesity.

"While Australians and New Zealanders like to perceive themselves as sporty, outdoorsy types, they are in fact exercising too little and eating too much junk food. Around two-thirds of Australians and New Zealanders are overweight or obese.

"It's extremely concerning that despite these rates, the New Zealand Government has shown particularly weak leadership in the area of health promotion.

"In fact, it appears averse to it, while providing concessions to the processed-food industry.

"In the past few years, the New Zealand Government has de-funded programmes such as Healthy Eating, Healthy Action and pulled away from healthy eating policies in schools.

"There is emerging evidence that community-based interventions such as Project Energize in Waikato could be effective but this must be scaled up to reach children across New Zealand."

Health Minister Tony Ryall reacted sourly to the critique. "This is a pithy publicity stunt," he said. "The Government puts a lot of resource into health promotion."

Mr Ryall listed the National Administration's public health highlights:

•$20 million a year for KiwiSport, a children's programme.

•Shifting funding, as other public health contracts expire, into nutrition education for pregnant women and parents of young children.

•An increase in the number of "green prescriptions" in which doctors and nurses advise patients to increase their physical activity.

•Granting permanent funding to the programme that provides free fruit in decile-one and -two schools.

•"Unparalleled" efforts on tobacco control.

- NZ Herald

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