Majority in NZ obese or overweight

By Martin Johnston

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders have continued their relentless weight gain and 65 per cent of us are obese or overweight, according to a nutrition survey that has alarmed some public health experts.

The Health Ministry-commissioned survey found that 37 per cent of adults were overweight and 28 per cent obese.

The proportion overweight has been increasing slowly but steadily, from 34 per cent in 1977. The obese category has expanded much faster, nearly tripling in the same period.

The survey, done by Otago University and released yesterday, confirms New Zealand's placing as the second most obese country among OECD nations that measure their populations, behind the United States, which is on 33.8 per cent.

"These statistics are deeply worrying and paint a bleak picture for the future health of our nation," said the Heart Foundation's medical director, Professor Norman Sharpe.

"New Zealand is in the grip of a global obesity epidemic, the future costs of which will be enormous, potentially unaffordable for the health system."

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Otago University professor of human nutrition and medicine Jim Mann told the Science Media Centre the obesity figures were alarming, but not surprising.

"We need an overarching strategy to deal with obesity and the prevention of diabetes ... we used to have a strategy - Healthy Eating, Healthy Action - but it wasn't in place long enough to find out if it was working."

Parts of it were still in place, such as fruit in low-decile schools, but that was only "a tiny start towards creating an environment to encourage healthy food choices and physical activity choices".

Other findings in the report include:

6.9 per cent of adults had diabetes, based on blood tests done for the survey, compared with 3.7 per cent who reported having been diagnosed with the disease in the 1996-97 health survey.

The reported energy intake of adults has declined since 1997, a finding that led one expert yesterday to suggest that people had probably under-reported their consumption in the new survey.

7.3 per cent of adults live with low levels of food security, up from 2.7 per cent in 1997.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said that although state spending on healthy-eating programmes had decreased under National, more was going into physical activity programmes.

"The Government is concerned about the level of unhealthy weights in the community. While the Government can do things to help, there are elements of personal responsibility here." It was something that had to be done in partnership between individuals, families and the community.

Bigger, bigger

* 1977 - 10 per cent of adults obese, 34 per cent overweight.
* 1997 - 17 per cent obese, 35 per cent overweight.
* 2008-09 - 28 per cent obese, 37 per cent overweight.
Source: Ministry of Health.

- NZ Herald

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