Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Obesity a greater risk than tobacco - report

Photo/Thinkstock
Photo/Thinkstock

Obesity, rather than tobacco-related disease, will affect more people's health in the future according to a new report released today by the Ministry of Health.

The Burden of Disease study was a culmination of many years of study into disability, disease and premature death.

The study measured "health loss" or how much healthy life was lost due to premature death, illness or impairment.

The Ministry said the data would help predict fatal and non-fatal health losses until 2016.

The report allowed the Ministry to see the "magnitude and distribution of causes of health loss for each demographic group" and helped to compare the relative impacts of different diseases, injuries and risk factors on health, the Ministry said.

Key findings included:

* Cancers and cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stroke) each contributed 17.5 per cent of the health loss, followed by mental disorders (11 per cent), musculoskeletal disorders (9 per cent) and injury (8 per cent);

* Males have a 13 per cent higher rate of health loss than females; and

* Maori had about a 75 per cent higher rate of health loss than non-Maori.

It also revealed that data from 2006 showed people with a diet high in salt and saturated fat accounted for 11.4 per cent of health loss - more than tobacco at 9.1 per cent.

From that data, the Ministry predicted by 2016 obesity and a high body mass index would continue to cause more health loss, and tobacco would bring about less health loss because the number of smokers was dropping.

University of Otago, Wellington's Associate Professor Nick Wilson said improving the nutritional environment for New Zealanders should therefore be a high priority for the Government.

"Fortunately, this can be done in ways that might also save health costs such as by taxing sugar in soft drinks, and regulations that limit maximum salt levels in high-salt processed foods," Professor Wilson said.

As part of the report, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) said health loss from injury - the fifth highest cause of health loss - robbed New Zealanders of more than 76,000 years of healthy life in the 2006 calendar year alone.

The report added a new dimension to their understanding of the impact that injuries had on the lives of New Zealanders, ACC's general manager of Insurance and Prevention Services John Beaglehole said.

ACC key findings:

* males account for nearly three-quarters of injury-related health loss;

* the leading causes of injury-related health loss are self-inflicted and transport-related injuries;

* Maori experience twice the rate of injury-related health loss of non-Maori, with particularly higher loss from transport-related, self-inflicted and interpersonal-violence-related injuries;

* alcohol is likely to be involved in a quarter of all injury-related health loss;

* for children, injuries are the third highest cause of health loss; and

* one third of injury-related health loss results from traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, most of which is due to transport-related injuries.

- APNZ

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