Is obesity really such a big deal?

We’ve all heard how the growing girth of the average New Zealander is leading to poor health. Adding to this is a new report by the Ministry of Health which makes for sobering reading.

As we get older, most of us look forward to being able to take things a bit easier, work less, spend more time with family and friends and do more of the things we love.  But the reality is that often poor health can rob us of either the number of years we get or how well we can live out those years.

The latest report from the Ministry of Health, called ‘Health Loss in New Zealand’, looks at this in detail. It has figured out how many years us Kiwis lose either through dying early or having reduced quality of life from poor health. 

Smoking remains the major risk to health, causing more death and disability than any other single factor. As a country, we’ve rightly taken some strong actions to encourage people to quit smoking, and we need to continue doing so.

But perhaps the more alarming figure is how closely overweight and obesity now follows behind smoking. By 2016, it is projected to overtake smoking as the leading cause of health loss. As a country, tackling obesity has been put in the “too hard” or the “it’s not our business” basket. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could all say 'it’s not too hard' and 'it is all of our business'. As a nation, we try and keep people safe from harm. Likewise we need to start taking action to protect people from the harm and early death caused by obesity. 

How can we do this? 

  1. Stop thinking of obesity as individual fault and as something that our society is creating
  2. Recognise that the food environment we are now exposed to has created a ‘perfect storm’ that makes it very easy for our bodies to put on weight and hard to lose it
  3. Acknowledge that the food environment isn’t going to change on its own; it needs government intervention to make it happen.  But it’s not just up to the government, we all need to play our part and get more vocal and active in changing it
  4. Realise that it’s not about stopping people having a choice in what they eat, but balancing up the playing field so that healthy food is affordable, easy and more convenient to access than unhealthy food

I was once involved in some focus groups where one of the participants made the comment that ‘we don’t eat that way because it’s cultural, we eat that way because it’s shoved in our faces’. They were referring to the type of cheap and unhealthy food and food outlets that were everywhere in their community.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop it being ‘shoved in our faces’.

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