19 Oct 2015

Government tackles childhood obesity

8:13 pm on 19 October 2015

The government has unveiled a plan aimed at tackling childhood obesity, including intervention for children as young as four.

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The government hopes a focus on children will influence the whole family. Photo: 123rf.com

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said being overweight or obese was expected to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable risk to health in New Zealand within the next year.

According to the Ministry of Health, New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OCED and that rate is on the rise.

The ministry estimated that one in nine children were obese, with a further two in the overweight category.

Dr Coleman said the focus of the plan was on food, the environment and being active at each stage of life, starting with pregnancy and early childhood.

"Childhood obesity is a serious issue which means some of our kids could end up living shorter lives than their parents.

"Our plan focuses on children as that's where the evidence shows we can have the greatest influence. By focusing on children we expect to also influence the whole family."

Under the new plan, 95 percent of children identified as obese in the B4 School Check will be referred to a health professional for clinical assessment and family based nutrition, activity and lifestyle interventions.

The B4 School Check is a free health and development check for four year olds.

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Health Minister Jonathan Coleman Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Dr Coleman said more than 58,600 children used the service in the last year and of that more than 1400 were referred on for obesity related support.

He said he expected that number to treble to more than 4000 a year by December 2017.

"We are working with the food industry on the role they can play and options discussed so far include appropriate marketing and advertising to children and food labelling."

The plan will be funded from within existing health, sport and education budgets.

But a public health advocate said the Government's new plan to tackle childhood obesity was inadequate.

A spokesperson for the group Fight the Obesity Epidemic, Dr Robyn Toomath, told Checkpoint the Ministry of Health was the wrong department to lead the plan, and it needed a wider approach.

Dr Toomath said for the plan to work it needed money, and regulations.

"We need to see Treasury in there. We need to see not only taxation, but we also need to be looking at the availability of healthy and unhealthy food, and the way this could be changed by restrictions on advertising. We need to shift the focus away from health and away from the individual."

Dr Toomath said it was naive to include the food industry without any proper oversight.

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