Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Drop fat by cutting marketing rubbish

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No one wants to be overweight in an age where thinness is a religion. Photo / NZ Herald
No one wants to be overweight in an age where thinness is a religion. Photo / NZ Herald

While we are hoping the All Blacks will win the Rugby World Cup, there is another competition that we are excelling in.

The Ministry of Health told us on Friday that New Zealand is now No2 on the obesity ladder among the OECD countries. Only the land of the fast food, the United States, is ahead. But fear not, we are gaining on them.

Out of every 10 Kiwis, three now carry more than 30 per cent of their body weight as fat, making them officially obese. In 1997, it was two out of 10.

The sad thing is that two out of three Pacific Islanders and half of Maori women are in the obese category. Polynesian people are naturally big, so the methodology used isn't quite fair, but no one denies we have an epidemic on our hands.

Only three in 10 New Zealanders are not overweight. Frightening.

In this age where thinness is a religion, no one wants to be overweight. The diet industry has never been so profitable. Surprisingly New Zealanders are actually eating less food and fewer calories than previous generations, but are still piling on the weight.

Everyone knows what to do to lose weight. Eat less and exercise. We know that if we get rid of sugar, animal fats and cut back on processed foods our body fat will ease down to a natural happy place.

However, as soon as we eat too much our body snatches the fat back into its cells and undoes all the months of good work. Because we lose muscle on a diet, we actually gain more weight than before.

And before all those with thin genes start acting superior and say it's an individual's own fault, research shows that when the body craves sugar and other food addictions then no personal willpower will overcome it, no matter how committed an individual is. The body will always win.

Anyone who has had a kid and put them in front of a television knows perfectly well where the problem began. Advertising.

Marketers deliberately target kids to pressure their parents to buy into an unhealthy lifestyle. This carries through to impressionable preteens, where ads for sugar products are always associated with being popular, having fun and belonging to the cool crowd. Don't even start me on lollipop alcohol drinks.

Marketing experts are paid fortunes to manipulate and condition minds from an early age.

We can only solve our obesity crisis with a full societal commitment. But this Government, like most others before it, has a dishonest position by pretending diet is entirely a personal choice and that marketing is benign advertising.

This Government's recent decision to allow free access of sugar drinks and fatty food into schools, tied in with the mass marketing of unhealthy foods, is criminal.

The deaths through diabetes and some cancers caused by things we feed our faces have reached a crisis point.

Firstly, to win this war we require serious regulation against promoting unhealthy food. Frankly, there should be bans of certain foods.

Secondly, every food product must include simple standard information that everyone understands.

Thirdly, comprehensive fitness and health studies in schools need to be compulsory.

Fourthly, I'd give every New Zealander tax credits to cover a gym pass.

But here's what I think is a major contributing factor: New Zealanders used to be able to raise a family on one income. In most homes, one parent had the time to look after the dietary and fitness needs of the household.

These days, a family needs two incomes to raise a household. The last thing an exhausted parent wants to do when they get home is cook.

Much easier to take the kids for a cheap, quick, unhealthy food fix or pull out a fatty frozen meal. After all, food outlets are open seven days a week, and many fast food joints are now open 24 hours.

But then it's easier to blame the individual, isn't it?

- Herald on Sunday

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