New Zealand is fat, getting fatter, and doctors say urgent action needs to be taken.
The New Zealand Medical Association, which represents thousands of doctors, says the soaring obesity rate is now a “public health crisis”.
In a report published today, the association calls for drastic cures for the bulge, including taxing or minimum prices for sugary drinks, restricting food advertising aimed at children, and taking fast food out of schools.
Tackling obesity should be embedded in everything from new building developments to school curriculums, the report says. Despite overwhelming evidence of the massive cost of obesity, the official response had been “piecemeal and largely ineffectual”, lagging behind many other countries.
The current Government’s move, when first elected, to scrap healthy food in schools, was singled out as a particularly troubling decision.
Reliance on self-regulation of the food industry was not working, the report says. “A prevailing ideology of individual responsibility and vested commercial interests have combined to thwart, dilute and undermine previous attempts at effective policies to counter the challenge of obesity.”
Association chairman Mark Peterson said more needed to be done to make healthy choices easier. “It is killing us and it is also costing us a lot of money.”
New Zealand was the fourth fattest country in the OECD, behind only the United States, Mexico and Hungary.
Otago University health researcher Professor Jim Mann said he supported the report’s recommendations, particularly a fizzy drink tax. Kiwis were becoming so big that they were almost blind to obesity. “Parents can’t even identify when their children are overweight or obese. Obesity is fast becoming normal.”
New Zealand’s poverty rates, particularly among children, and cheap access to fatty tasty foods were largely to blame, as was a lack of political will. “There is this obsession with the nanny state, that we shouldn’t be telling people what to do.”