Obesity is potentially the greatest public health threat New Zealand faces over the next decade, the country’s peak body for medical practitioners has revealed in a new paper.
In its report into tackling obesity, the New Zealand Medical Association has come out with a suite of measures as part of an approach to tackling New Zealand’s obesity epidemic.
Dr Mark Peterson, chairman of the NZMA, said obesity poses a significant risk to the health of New Zealand’s population and is of prime concern to doctors. At the same time, existing approaches to tackling obesity are not doing enough.
New Zealand is now the fourth most obese country in the OECD, with nearly two-thirds of adults either overweight or obese.
This is highest in Pacific Island adults and in those with greatest levels of deprivation, among which over two-thirds are obese. Moreover, almost half of all Māori adults are obese, while the obesity rate in children continues to increase.
According to the paper, key drivers of the obesity epidemic include the increased availability of cheap, palatable and energy-dense foods, persuasive and pervasive food marketing, and reduced physical activity.
“This has led to an ‘obesogenic’ environment in which making the healthy choice has become increasingly difficult and expensive,” the report said.
Tax sugary drinks, curb food marketing
Peterson said that doctors in the region must individually and collectively do as much as they can to influence this epidemic.
“Central to these measures will be countering the obesogenic environment and improving health literacy. We believe that government is in the best position to implement an integrated response to the obesity epidemic via a combination of legislative, regulatory and policy levers,” he said.
The NZMA recommended the use of fiscal instruments in influencing food consumption, with priority given to a tax for sugar-sweetened beverages.
The association also stressed that recognising and acting on obesity in childhood is also of particular importance and asked for greater protection for children from the marketing of unhealthy food.
“This should entail a more stringent statutory regulatory regime that addresses all forms of marketing, including product packaging and sponsorships,” the paper said.
In addition, the NZMA also called for the traffic light labelling system, which has been vigorously opposed by the industry, to be developed and implemented on the front of packaging to help inform consumers about their food choices.