Obesity all our problem says campaigner

By Anne-Marie McDonald

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Dr Robyn Toomath, who will be giving the annual Porritt Lecture in Whanganui in November.
Dr Robyn Toomath, who will be giving the annual Porritt Lecture in Whanganui in November.

A long-time campaigner against obesity will give this year's Porritt Lecture.

Dr Robyn Toomath, the clinical director of general medicine at Auckland Hospital, will speak in Whanganui on November 17.

Dr Toomath publicly abandoned her campaign, saying she was sick of making no progress in the fight against obesity.

She has worked as a diabetes specialist for the past 30 years, and it was this work that led her to form, in 2001, an organisation called Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE).

"We had some early success, including health select committee carrying out an investigation into type 2 diabetes. But in recent years, with the change of government, things have ground to a halt. We've been saying the same things over and over, without making any progress."

Dr Toomath wound up the organisation in 2015.

She told the Wanganui Chronicle the government's current approach to obesity is to "tell people to try harder".

"I am totally opposed to personal responsibility being the answer to obesity. People might lose weight for six months, maybe 12 months. But if you look five years out, about 85 percent people are right back where they were and many of them are much fatter.

"About a decade ago, I stopped asking people losing weight. Prescribing weight loss simply doesn't work."

Instead Dr Toomath would like to see the government impose tighter restrictions around food.

"If we really want to deal with obesity need to tackle food in our environment. That means we need to decrease the availability and increase the price of junk food."

She said the public "needs to demand" a healthier environment.

"People have a right to a healthier environment, and they need to demand a response from the government," Dr Toomath said.

In April, her book on the subject was published. It's titled Fat Science: why diet and exercise don't work and what does. It was published by Auckland University Press.

The Porritt Lecture was established by renowned physician Dr Peter Powles, who worked at Whanganui Hospital for most of his career. The lecture was named in honour of Lord Arthur Porritt, a Whanganui-born governor-general and the speaker at the first Porritt lecture more than 50 years ago.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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