Piling on the beef

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Talk about an unwanted silver medal.

New Zealand prides itself in punching above its weight but the most recent statistics about, well, weight reveal that we possibly need to get our young ones a punching bag for Christmas.

The numbers are in and they do not make pretty reading. New Zealand now has the second worst rate of childhood obesity in the OECD, according to the latest report from international children's charity Unicef.

An astonishing 39% of our children are classified as obese or overweight. Only the famously burger-happy United States has fatter children.

This is not a new problem - New Zealand was third in the stocky stakes across all ages from 2007 to 2017, according to OECD records - but it is still one that should cause all of us serious concern.

More weight equals more health problems, more strain on our already struggling hospitals, more misery all round.

As University of Auckland professor of population nutrition Boyd Swinburn told Stuff this week, New Zealand's ranking for childhood obesity was ``truly awful''.

Prof Swinburn came off the long run when he criticised successive governments for failing to take meaningful action against the tidal wave of obesity.

There will be some who feel it is not time to panic, that numbers only tell part of the story. Or, indeed, they may find other numbers, like the New Zealand Health Survey's statistics that, two years ago, suggested ``just'' one in eight Kiwi kids, or 12%, were obese.

What defines ``overweight'' anyway? Not everyone is convinced the BMI (body mass index) rating is particularly effective, perhaps harking back to the curious story some years back about then-All Black captain Richie McCaw being classified as obese based on his numbers.

Still, these are disquieting statistics to digest.

This is New Zealand - a country with wide open spaces, with beaches, with remarkable sporting and leisure opportunities. Our kids are incredibly well placed to lead healthy, active lives if they can only be convinced to lay off the electronics.

This inevitably brings us back to some of the key debates that have raged for years. Namely, the value of a sugar tax, the need to make it easier and cheaper to get healthy food on the table, and the ways to address modern sedentary lifestyles.

We must not let up on the education and marketing campaigns. We owe it to our children - who, after all, are effectively products of a society we have created - to get off the podium of obesity rates and get this health crisis in check.

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