A new report highlighting the disparity in the health system for Maori shows the challenge in improving fairness in the health sector, the New Zealand Medical Association says.
The Burden of Disease study, which was released yesterday by the Ministry of Health, measured "health loss" or how much healthy life was lost due to premature death, illness or impairment.
The Ministry said the data would help predict fatal and non-fatal health losses until 2016.
Amongst the report's findings was that Maori had about a 75 per cent higher rate of health loss than non-Maori.
The data confirmed research that Maori experienced higher exposures to risk factors for poor health, more injury, more disability and poorer outcomes when they interact with health services, the New Zealand Medical Association said.
Its chairman Mark Peterson said the Ministry's report confirmed there were continuing challenges to address to improve health equity.
"The fact health loss in Maori is almost 1.8 times higher than in non-Maori and that this occurs earlier on in life is unacceptable.
"Addressing these issues must be a priority for us all - government, society, industry and health professionals," Dr Peterson said.
Other key report findings were that heart attacks and stroke each contributed 17.5 per cent of New Zealand's overall health loss, followed by mental disorders (11 per cent), musculoskeletal disorders (9 per cent) and injury (8 per cent).
It also revealed that data from 2006 showed people with a diet high in salt and saturated fat accounted for 11.4 per cent of health loss - more than tobacco at 9.1 per cent.
From that data, the Ministry predicted by 2016 obesity and a high body mass index would continue to cause more health loss, and tobacco would bring about less health loss because the number of smokers was dropping.
"We must therefore continue to actively pursue the achievement of a Smokefree New Zealand by 2025, and also apply the same energy to addressing obesity and nutrition," Dr Peterson said.
University of Otago, Wellington's Associate Professor Nick Wilson said improving the nutritional environment for New Zealanders should therefore be a high priority for the Government.
"Fortunately, this can be done in ways that might also save health costs such as by taxing sugar in soft drinks, and regulations that limit maximum salt levels in high-salt processed foods," Professor Wilson said.