Obesity rate declines in young Pacific children

The Healthy Auckland Together plan includes working towards providing healthy food in schools and early-education  centres. Photo / Andrew Warner
The Healthy Auckland Together plan includes working towards providing healthy food in schools and early-education centres. Photo / Andrew Warner

The rate of obesity has declined in young Pacific children, according to a new coalition of Auckland government and community agencies.

Public health physician Dr Michael Hale, a spokesman for Healthy Auckland Together, says its baseline health report for the region found that there had been a small but significant decrease in the percentages of Maori and Pacific boys who were obese at the before-school health checks in 2014, compared with 2012.

The group said: "The obesity rates for the under-5s have remained stable for other ethnicities in the region ... "

The obesity rate declined by:

• 2.5 percentage points for Pacific boys - from 17.25 per cent in 2012, to 14.75 per cent in 2014.

• 1.4 percentage points for Pacific girls

• 2.5 percentage points for Maori boys.

"We need more information to be able to say why this trend is occurring. It may be because of early childhood policies, awareness around sugar, improved pre-natal care or many other causes. However, it does reflect the same stabilisation in obesity rates seen in other developed countries," Dr Hale said.

In the Pacific community, the drop in young children's obesity has been offset by a rise in the percentage who were overweight but not obese, with the result that there has been little change in the proportion within the normal-weight range: 57-58 per cent.

"Unfortunately we still have an intractable health crisis with over two-thirds of Auckland adults and a third of children overweight or obese," said Dr Hale.

Healthy Action Auckland's partners include the region's three district health boards and public health service, transport agencies, Auckland Council, iwi, primary health organisations, the Auckland University School of Population Health, and other non-government groups.

The coalition has published a 41-page action plan with the aims of improving Aucklanders' nutrition, increasing their physical activity and reducing obesity.

In schools and early-childhood education centres (ECEs) the aim is to restore something like the requirement, scrapped by Government in 2009, that food and drink supplied by the school must generally exclude unhealthy options such as chocolate fundraisers and sausage rolls at tuckshops.

The action plan includes a commitment, to be led by the university, to "promote introduction of compulsory guidelines that limit the provision of unhealthy food within schools and ECEs".

The Education and Health ministries have urged schools to supply only water and low-fat milk, because of links between sugary drinks and obesity and tooth decay.

Population nutrition expert Professor Boyd Swinburn, of Auckland University, said its efforts in the coalition would be to support schools to extend the healthy-drinks encouragement from the ministries to the provision of only healthy foods.

"The only organisations that can apply compulsion are based in Wellington [ -- the Government]."

- NZ Herald

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