New Zealand's obesity rate surged ahead in the 12 years to 2009, a major nutrition report released today by the Ministry of Health shows.
For men the obesity rate shot up to 27.7 per cent in 2009, up from 17 per cent.
The women's rate was slightly higher, at 27.8 per cent, up from 20.6 per cent in 1997, says the report, A focus on nutrition, key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand adult nutrition survey.
Among Maori, the survey found that 40.7 per cent of men were obese and 48.1 per cent of women.
The survey was done for the ministry on contract by Otago University researchers.
Jim Mann, professor of human nutrition and medicine at the university, told the Science Media Centre that the obesity figures were "alarming but not surprising.
"[New Zealand is] high up in the ranks of the global pandemic of obesity. It reminds us that we have got a terrible problem ... clearly, we need to be doing something about it. Obesity is particularly common in people who are socioeconomically deprived.
"Energy intakes are difficult to measure accurately, but we must be eating more than we are putting out in activity.
We've got to put out more, and maybe eat less of the wrong kind of foods.
"What we are talking about is excessive intake of energy-dense foods, those high in fat and high in sugar. It looks as though consumption of saturated fat is coming down. That's good news, though lower cholesterol levels could also be because there are vast numbers of people on statin drugs.
"The number of people with diabetes are almost certainly underestimated. While things are being done, one of the big concerns of people like myself is we don't really have an overarching strategy for dealing with the obesity/diabetes epidemic.
"Rising obesity prevalence has longer-term implications for the incidence of cardiovascular disease - it may start rising again - and some cancers.
"We need an overarching strategy to deal with obesity and the prevention of diabetes, and prevention of all the other long-term consequences. We used to have a strategy - the Healthy Eating-Healthy Action (HEHA) - but it wasn't in place long enough to find out if it was working.
"Parts of it are still around, but fruit in low-decile schools was only a tiny start towards creating an environment to encourage healthy food choices and physical activity choices.
"That's what an overarching strategy does - and that's what we haven't got at the moment".