Professor Philip James, chairman
of the International Obesity Task Force and a former
chief food safety adviser to Britain's Prime Minister
Tony Blair, met Health Minister Pete Hodgson, doctors
and Maori health groups last week.
He said there was an
enormous and out of control public health crisis relating
to being overweight.
"The problem has been you have always assumed if anyone gets fat it's their own
problem. But actually it's the poorest people who are fattest and have the biggest
difficulties with diabetes."
The food industry was selling food in larger quantities and with a higher fat
and sugar content, and fruit, vegetables and grains had become less affordable.
"You've manipulated, with Government approval and huge grants in the past, the
whole of the industry, and the way in which you work, and live, and the foods
you serve up in New Zealand are beautifully designed to guarantee that most people
are putting on weight." Maori and Pacific Island communities were particularly
at risk, with many being struck by type 2 diabetes at a younger age and having
obesity rates on a par with the United States, he said. Ten per cent of New
Zealand children and 21 per cent of adults are obese, and health experts estimate
1.5 million Kiwis can be classed as overweight or obese.
Type 2 diabetes is directly related to a high-fat diet and excess weight, and
its incidence is increasing.
Professor James said if nothing was done, hospital services would eventually
not be able to cope with the number of casualties from the obesity epidemic.
It was not enough to tell people to change their diet.
| The Government should change
food pricing so that unhealthy foods were more expensive
and "good" food was cheaper. Government departments and
other organisations supported by the Government should
be required to provide high quality, healthy food to staff.
Policies and regulations should be introduced to protect
children, including restricting advertising of unhealthy
food, and preventing schools selling soft drinks, chocolate,
and other junk food. Mr Hodgson agreed that action on obesity
was urgently needed. Success would come from community
and family measures, such as walking buses for children
and "green prescriptions" for exercise from GPs. The professor
was in New Zealand for five days before leaving to attend
a World Health Organisation conference in Fiji.