It's ''time for a change'' in the way the country tackles
its ''serious'' obesity problems, New Zealand Medical
Association president Branko Sijnja says.
The hard-hitting policy briefing paper, titled ''Tackling
Obesity'', released today, points out New Zealand is now the
fourth most obese country in the OECD, with nearly two-thirds
of adults either overweight (34%) or obese (31%).
And childhood obesity is continuing to rise.
Dr Sijnja said the fact the NZMA was issuing a policy paper
was ''a recognition of the seriousness'' of the obesity
''There's a need for change.''
Obesity was a preventable risk factor for the development of
various non-communicable diseases, including type-2 diabetes,
heart disease and several cancers, the 38-page paper warned.
Obesity contributed to a ''huge financial burden on the
healthcare system'' as well as indirect social costs, the
Dr Sijnja works part-time as a Balclutha GP.
He is also a member of the Southern District Health Board and
is director of the Rural Medical Immersion Programme,
involving medical student training, which is based at the
University of Otago's department of general practice and
The policy paper said New Zealand's approaches to obesity
were ''not doing enough'', given the country's ''unenviable''
record of being fourth worst in the OECD for obesity, behind
only the United States, Mexico and Hungary.
Obesity had been identified more than two decades ago as a
''potential public health time bomb'', but efforts to tackle
it had been ''piecemeal and largely unsuccessful'' in this
New Zealand was facing a ''scary'' future, with rising levels
of adult-onset diabetes, and the country's future health
system risked being overwhelmed unless obesity rates were
reduced, Dr Sijnja said.
The paper said excess weight and obesity caused about 20% of
all cancer cases and was also a risk factor for type 2
diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The policy paper also makes 10 recommendations, including
health professionals taking every chance to ''engage
sensitively'' with patients who were obese; that Government
give ''priority'' to introducing a tax for sugar-sweetened
beverages; and that an easy-to-understand food labelling
system, preferably the traffic light concept, be introduced
on the front of packaging.
Also recommended was that food and nutrition guidelines be
introduced in school canteens and all public services,
''Each of us individually has to accept that we are
responsible for our well-being,'' Dr Sijnja said.
And, given the success of government-co-ordinated public
health measures to reduce smoking, a more active approach
should also be taken to countering health risks posed by
sugar-sweetened beverages and inadequate food labelling, he