Tauranga is facing a child obesity epidemic as kids drink themselves fat on sugar-laden fizzy drinks, a local health expert says.
Figures from a New Zealand Health survey conducted between 2011 and 2014 that broke down regional statistics for the first time estimated one in four Bay children between the ages of 2 and 14 were overweight - 9 per cent are obese with a further 17 per cent overweight.
Toi Te Ora Public Health Service medical officer of health Dr Neil de Wet told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend child obesity was a global pandemic.
Close to one in three Kiwi adults were also obese and another 33 per cent overweight according to the survey.
A Morgan Stanley Research report said New Zealand was the third biggest consumer of sugar and sweeteners per capita in the OECD and the third fattest country in the developed world.
Energy dense foods high in sugar and fat, or both were being marketed aggressively, Dr de Wet said.
"So without being really aware we are consuming more energy than we used to."
A link had also been established between sugary drink consumption and a child's risk of becoming overweight or obese, he said.
"For example, having one sugary drink a day may increase a child's risk of being overweight by 50 or 60 per cent. A lot of people would recognise obviously things like lollies, confectionary and chocolate are high in sugar but perhaps not realise a 600ml bottle of fizzy drink might contain 16 teaspoons of sugar."
"Many children drink that as if it were one serving."
It was hard for parents to decipher products that had hidden sugar as they were often marketed as healthy options.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Government invested more than $60 million a year on a range of programmes to promote healthy lifestyles, including Kiwisport, Green Prescriptions, and Fruit in Schools.
Dr de Wet said, while these were good initiatives, the food industry needed to get on board because "the main driver to the obesity epidemic is more likely about the food we consume rather than being active enough."
Tauranga GP Tony Farrell said sugar "should be taxed more and made less available".
Parents should also take responsibility as "we are controlling their environment to some degree ... but it is certainly true items like fizzy drinks are cheaper to buy than bottled water and someone on a budget is more likely to buy food high in sugar and low in nutrients."
An overweight child was at risk of diabetes, skin infections, falls, bullying and self-esteem problems, he said.
"The longer-term risks for adults is cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. When we see a really obese child we should be wrapping around services to assist that family."
Last month a call to impose further restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents and place a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks - gained support from public health experts.
A spokesman for the NZ Food & Grocery Council told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend in a statement that people should consider energy balance when they choose the foods and drinks they consume.
The food industry was involved in many initiatives that helped, including healthy-choice education, the spokesman said.
In a statement, Kerry R Tyack, executive director of the NZ Beverage Council - the body representing the non-alcoholic beverage industry - pointed to an earlier 2002 Ministry of Health survey, which found that while 12.6 per cent of children's total energy intake was from sucrose, only 1.1 per cent was from sugar sweetened soft drinks.
Mr Tyack said claiming any direct link between a single product and obesity was spurious.
"Consumers including children get their energy from a whole host of sources and to single out a single product indicates poor science ... At the end of the day if you (or your caregiver) chooses to ignore the freely available advice that a healthy diet must be a balance of good diet and exercise then you are putting your health at risk."
Sugar should be taxed more and made less available.
Mr Tyack said the council refuted claims the industry was aggressively marketing to children and said its members were accelerating the choice of low and no sugar drinks, were committed to education programmes .
Sport Bay of Plenty recreation team leader Sonia Lynds said its Active Families programme provided support for families with children that had become significantly overweight.
They were referred to the organisation by their GP under Green Prescriptions and it targeted 35 Tauranga families a year but had exceeded that number annually since 2012, she said.
Gate Pa School acting principal Terry Furmage said it encouraged children to take part in lunchtime sports activities and it promoted healthy eating options.
The school had banned all drinks except for water and milk, was part of the fruit in schools project and had run a programme that focused on students learning about food labels, he said.
Healthy living now a lifestyle
A "light bulb moment" and a desire to "get back to the basics" started her family's journey to a healthier lifestyle, Toia Palmer says.
Along with hubby Pierre Roberts, who also felt strongly about their family's health and wellbeing, she joined SPEE (Strength Power Endurance Enhanced )Training in February 2014 and within two months they also had their four children in classes.
"We decided to prioritise that over other things we might want to buy because it was important to us."
The couple wanted to exercise together as a family "and become more knowledgeable around our nutrition," Ms Palmer said.
Initially SPEE owners Reece and Vanita Spee visited their home, armed with menu suggestions and a blender.
More than a year on and Ms Palmer said they had noticed a huge mindshift in their children as they got stronger, fitter and more in tune with their bodies.
However, it was not a quick fix "and we are not trying to advocate we have got it all worked out", she said.
"We still have our treats but try to keep things balanced and now when we have a takeaway it is something like Subway as opposed to KFC.
"But sometimes we may make mistakes. We are real people but we try not to kick ourselves about it and stay positive and rethink on how we can do things better." It had become part of the family's lifestyle, she said.
What do you think?
Have your say below or email
, go to our
, text 021 241 4568 BOP (message) or write to Private Bag 12002.
Response may be published.