The week after New Year is a testing time for resolutions to correct a bad habit. But it is a good time to make one new one: we could resolve to take personal responsibility this year for that problem doctors are calling the obesity epidemic. This is a good moment to make that particular resolution because the festive feasting of the past fortnight has finished and the consequences are probably evident on the waistline - or the scales if we dare to find out.
It is also a good time to raise the subject because the Government is on holiday and so are the public health lobbyists and opposition political parties whose job it is to demand the Government do something about it. This is one problem that no adult should need the Government's help to fix.
The solution does not cost any money, it is as easy for rich and poor alike. It requires no education. The solution is so simple it can be stated in four words: eat less, exercise more.
It is, of course, easier said than done. Eating is so pleasurable that it can be almost an addiction, and there is so much tasty food on sale these days. Everywhere we turn we see a cafeteria. Cities and suburban centres have so many lunch bars it is a wonder they all can survive. Shopping malls and even airport terminals have converted a great deal of their space to food halls for people who seem to have need meals at all hours of the day.
Likewise, exercise. It sounds easy enough, even pleasant, to take a daily walk. And it is for a day or two. Then it becomes a chore and a bore. But those who persist might find that exercise, too, can become so pleasant it is almost addictive. Once the limbs and lungs are conditioned to it, a good long brisk walk is not hard and it is good for the mind, too. There is no better time for thinking and talking. There is no easier time than mid-summer to begin.
The sedentary nature of modern life is probably a greater contributor to weight than anything we eat. Cooked food today is undoubtedly more healthy than it was generations ago. Fast-food chains are more prolific now, of course, and they present a satisfying target for those looking for a big business to blame. But their worst food is no more fatty and salty than home-cooked meals used to be. Older New Zealanders can attest that almost everything their grandparents cooked was fried in dripping, which they often left in a frying pan from one meal to the next.
Those generations did not exercise much either, but they did not need to. Their household had one car. They walked more. They had push-mowers and dug vegetable gardens. Their children played outside because there were no computer games or even daytime television. They watched rugby from sidelines or terraces, not armchairs.
More than 1.1 million New Zealand adults - one in three - are considered obese by the Ministry of Health. The number has risen to 31 per cent, up from 27 per cent six years ago.
Child obesity is not nearly as high, 11 per cent of those aged 2-14, but has also increased in that period. Scholars blame the type and quantity of food consumed more than a lack of exercise. The Health Research Council has funded a $5 million year-long study that will have children wear cameras to record how much fast food advertising they see.
Obesity will never be solved by excuses for over-eating. The solutions are adult willpower and parental control. The food courts and fast-food chains are not force-feeding anybody. With a conscious effort anybody can eat less and exercise more. It really is that simple.