Kids and teens in a Kiwi study on the health risks associated with obesity in young people
were less physically active and spent more time watching screens than nationally recommended guidelines.

The 239 children in the study were assessed when they enrolled in a Taranaki community-based 12 month intervention programme Whanau Pakari.

Findings from the assessments of the overweight or obese 4 to 16-year-olds are being used as part of a joint study between the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland, Taranaki District Health Board, and Sport Taranaki, with funding from the Health Research Council.

The latest findings have been published in the Scientific Reports journal and were made public today.


Physical "huff and puff" activity was much lower than national averages, and the vast majority of children and teenagers didn't meet physical activity guidelines, the study found.

Moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise was low, with a daily average of 39 minutes compared to 105 minutes in a national survey. The national physical activity guideline is at least one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity each day.

And a third of participants spent more than three hours a day outside of school hours watching TV or other screens.

The average screen time was more than two-and-a-half hours, outside of school hours. National guidelines suggest no more than two hours a day, outside school.

Obesity 'everyone's problem' - paediatrician

Participants are split evenly, at 45 per cent each, between Maori and Pakeha. The remaining 10 per cent represent other ethnicities.

Liggins Institute researcher, Taranaki paediatrician and co-author of the study, Dr Yvonne Anderson, said the low physical activity combined with high screen time were a concern.

"We already knew from a past study that almost half of the children have a television or some form of device in their bedrooms, and these children reported having more difficulty getting to sleep than those without devices in the bedroom."

Researchers also found that as children got older, physical activity decreased.

Obesity was everyone's problem, and everyone was part of the solution, Anderson said.

"We all need to work together to ensure children have access to physical activities and environments to undertake these activities in their everyday lives.

"We need to be role models for our children. As our lives get increasingly filled with technology, we need to unplug and get active with our children."

Nationally, an estimated 85,000 children aged between 2 and 14 are obese, according to the New Zealand Health Survey.