Educating children is key to battling obesity

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Louise Watson feels like a new person after losing weight. Photo / George Novak
Louise Watson feels like a new person after losing weight. Photo / George Novak

Tauranga has an obesity problem to rival anywhere in New Zealand, and health workers say educating children is the answer to stemming the tidal wave of fat.

A new Ministry of Health report has revealed that more than a million New Zealand adults are obese - and that figure has risen dramatically in the past 15 years.

Though Bay of Plenty figures were not available, Toi Te Ora Public Health Service medical officer of health Dr Neil de Wet told the Bay of Plenty Times there was no reason to suggest levels were any different here.

Rising obesity was cause for concern, and a risk factor for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes and osteoarthritis.

Dr de Wet said it was important to note that the problem was not unique to New Zealand - it was happening globally.

"At a simple level, it's linked to changes in lifestyle and also foods that are energy dense, with higher fat and sugar content, becoming more readily available.

"On the other side, our levels of physical activity would seem to be going down, we have a more sedentary lifestyle both at work and at home."

Tackling obesity was a priority for Toi Te Ora but there was no single solution, he said.

"This is a problem that's emerging over a couple of decades. We are going to need that amount of time to turn things around."

The health and education sectors would need to work with the food industry, he said.

"There's got to be an important focus for us on young children. That's where a lot of patterns are set."

Tauranga registered dietitian Fiona Boyle, of Food Solutions, believed the marked increase in obesity was due to a combination of factors including fewer meals eaten at home.

"Our society is becoming more used to not preparing your own food.

"When you buy your lunch it's harder to control everything - how much butter or spread or mayonnaise is used, portion sizes are bigger, there are fatty choices ... All these small things add up."

Alcohol was more readily available and it had become normalised to have a glass of wine during the week.

And busy lifestyles caused people to miss lunch and over-eat in the afternoon.

Mrs Boyle said targeting children was key, so obesity did not become an ongoing issue as the population aged.

She suggested a combination of industry and community approaches including making nutritional information easier to read, having calories clearly marked on alcohol bottles, creating more cycle lanes and nutrition apps for smartphones.

Tauranga GP Geoff Esterman, of Gate Pa Medical Centre, said he saw the effects of obesity all the time in patients with issues from diabetes, to knee and hip problems and hyperthyroidism.

"It's an incredibly common problem. Lifestyle is part and parcel of the cause. There's a whole lot of contributing reasons - ready access to a lot of takeaway food, a loss of understanding about food and nutrition, and much less physical activity.

"Really, life's become too cushy. People are eating too much and not exercising."

Dr Esterman believed the solution lay in teaching the younger generation the importance of healthy nutrition and exercise.

"It's got to be multi-faceted, there's certainly no magic bullet you can give people.

"It's less energy in, more energy out."

Weight loss boosts self esteem

Louise Watson understands the need for a good diet and lots of exercise. At her heaviest the Tauranga woman weighed 93kg but in the past six months she has shed kilos and is now 73kg.

The 22-year-old said it was no surprise that there was a high number of overweight residents in Tauranga and said if other people were like her, they would turn a blind eye to their weight gain.

Miss Watson works at a fast food restaurant and said free food and little exercise was a bad combination.

"My birth father had a heart attack when he was 40. He is a heavy drinker and smoker. I don't drink or smoke but it made me look at myself and ways I could get healthier," she said. "It just shocked me to realise how heavy and unhealthy I was."

Miss Watson said in the past six months she has gone from about 85kg to 73kg and feels like a completely new person.

"When I look back it is just embarrassing. I didn't feel comfortable with my body and I lived in track pants and I would just turn a blind eye to my weight."

She said not only was she feeling healthier she has gained more confidence and feels better about herself.

"Other people have noticed and they keep telling me that I have changed so much. I do feel like a different person."

Miss Watson said she has stuck to a clean eating programme and goes to the gym regularly to do weights and cardio. "I also bike to and from work and that works out to be about 40km a day.

"Since losing the weight I am more active and I feel more attractive. It certainly helps your self esteem.

"I think people just need to find something which will motivate them and just do it."

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