Study finds South Aucklanders comfortable with health of often overweight children.

South Auckland parents believe their children are as healthy as the average youngster, even though their obesity level is far above national norms.

A Ministry of Health survey has found 98.1 per cent of parents in the Counties Manukau District Health Board rate their children's health as good, very good or excellent.

That compares with a national average of 98 per cent within a fairly narrow range, from 96.4 per cent in Hawkes Bay to 99.6 per cent on the West Coast.

The survey, which covered many health indicators for more than 14,000 adults and 5600 children, found 93.3 per cent of parents in the Auckland District Health Board area consider they have healthy children.


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But there remains a stark difference in obesity rates, with 18.6 per cent of Counties Manukau children falling into that category, compared with just 9.8 per cent in the central Auckland suburbs.

The national average is 10.8 per cent and the highest obesity rate is on the East Coast, with 25.6 per cent of children in the Tai Rawhiti District Health Board area falling into that category.

Fewer Canterbury children than elsewhere - just 3.9 per cent of those surveyed - were considered obese.

Counties Manukau's adult obesity rate of 40 per cent was the highest in the country, but the Auckland isthmus level of 22.1 per cent was the lowest.

Carol Wham of Massey University's Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health is encouraged by a survey result showing that 77.4 per cent of Counties Manukau children from birth to age 12 visited a family doctor in the previous 12 months.

"That's fantastic," she said last night, when told that more South Auckland parents seemed ready to seek help from GPs than many others, for whom the national average was 74.3 per cent.

But Dr Wham feared they may have given the surveyors too rosy a view of their children's health.

"There might be more socio-economic deprivation in that area and more health disparity so that makes the findings even more optimistic," she said.

Counties Manukau children accounted for fewer than the national average of asthma sufferers, but more of them went without breakfast and watched more than two hours of television a day than in many other areas.

And despite more of them visiting GPs than the national average, fewer received dental care.

Auckland University of Technology nutrition and obesity expert Professor Elaine Rush said the profile for child health in Counties Manukau was very different to other parts of the country and it was an important area because of its high proportion of young people.

"They are our future so how can we as a country best invest in their future to close the gaps - how can the environment be more supportive for healthy living?" she told the Herald from Kuala Lumpur.

"A society should be judged on how it cares for its children.

"Counties Manukau [health board] should be congratulated and supported for all the good things happening there, but more upstream change and support is needed."

Another positive health indication for South Auckland is that the survey found only 17.5 per cent of adults there smoked tobacco, compared with a national average of 18 per cent and the country's highest level of 33.3 per cent in the Tai Rawhiti district.

The figure in the Auckland District Health Board area is 12.9 per cent, the country's lowest rate.