Half of NZ population sloth-like: Survey

By Martin Johnston

New Zealand is a nation of couch potatoes, according to a global comparison on physical activity published in the Lancet medical journal. Photo / Thinkstock
New Zealand is a nation of couch potatoes, according to a global comparison on physical activity published in the Lancet medical journal. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders, among the world's fatter populations, have now been revealed as among the less active.

About 31 per cent of adults worldwide do less than the minimum recommended physical activity a week. "Activity" can be related to leisure time, your job, transport - such as biking to work - and housework.

In New Zealand, 48 per cent of adults are inactive, with women, at 50 per cent, more inclined to take it easy than men, at 45 per cent.

And with more than a quarter of adults being obese, New Zealand has one of the highest obesity rates among developed countries.

The global comparison on physical activity features in Britain's Lancet medical journal.

"Our findings are troubling," say the article's authors. "The situation in adolescents is even more worrying, with a worldwide estimate that four of every five adolescents aged 13-15 years do not meet present guidelines."

Adults and adolescents who do insufficient physical activity "are at increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, several other diseases, and premature death".

Auckland University of Technology nutrition and obesity expert Professor Elaine Rush said yesterday that she agreed with the authors' concerns.

"Physical activity is one of the best things we can possibly do to improve our health - just by moving our body. It doesn't have to be sport or competition. It could be dancing or walking to the bus stop."

"Physically active people are less likely to suffer [high blood glucose levels] and get diabetes so being physically active is a way of preventing diabetes; it keeps glucose under better control."

The Lancet research also compares 16 countries on "active" commuting. In New Zealand, 7 per cent of adults walk to work and 2.5 per cent cycle - compared with the biggest walkers, Swedes, at 24 per cent; and biggest bikers, the Dutch and the Danes, at around 25 per cent.

A second article in the journal urges doing more to get people active: "We need to view the inactive population as abnormal and consider them at high risk of disease."

New Zealand research a decade ago estimated that poor nutrition and physical inactivity accounted for 40 per cent of the country's deaths. About 2500 deaths a year were linked to physical inactivity, and 8500 to poor diet.

Professor Rush said schemes such as Green Prescriptions, in which nurses and doctors formally advised patients to get some exercise, were good, but earlier interventions were needed, such as her research group's school-based Project Energize, which was now funded in the Waikato by the district's health board.

The diet and physical activity scheme is credited with reducing children's average weight and helping them to run faster.

SLOW TO MOVE
* Malta 72 per cent
* Britain 63 per cent
* United States 41 per cent
* Bangladesh 5 per cent
* Australia 38 per cent
* New Zealand 48 per cent
* Global average 31 per cent

What other countries are saying:

Britain
UK has third most inactive population in Europe

Malta
Malta tops league of world's laziest - The Times of Malta

Australia
Aussies the champions at being lazy - News Ltd, Australia

Ireland
Irish among laziest in Europe

America
Hooray, we're not the laziest country in the world - The Atlantic

- NZ Herald

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