09 June 2014

In a major policy briefing released today, the New Zealand Medical Association recommends a suite of measures to be considered as part of an approach to tackling New Zealand’s obesity epidemic.

NZMA Chair Dr Mark Peterson says obesity and its related complications are potentially the greatest public health threat we face over the next decade. 

Such a significant risk to the health of the New Zealand population must be of concern to doctors, he says. “Our commitment to the health of our patients means we must individually and collectively do as much as we 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.”

The briefing—Tackling Obesity—is a major piece of work for the Association, with several months’ research into the latest evidence on both the harms associated with obesity and on the successful ways in which it is being addressed in other countries.

Along with obvious complications such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, obesity is a factor in certain types of cancers, and a host of other conditions such as osteoarthritis, gallstones, gynaecological disorders, sleep apnoea and depression.

“Obesity is also a significant equity issue,” says Dr Peterson, “with children living in the most deprived areas three times more likely to be obese than children who live in the least deprived areas. There are also significant ethnic disparities, with Māori and Pasifika being over represented in obesity statistics, along with Asian and Indian ethnic groups.”

In Tackling Obesity, the NZMA makes a number of recommendations that require a whole-of-government and a whole-of-community response.

“Influencing the ‘obesogenic’ environment our patients face every day is the role of all doctor organisations, and NZMA intends to lead this,” says Dr Peterson. “We would encourage other organisations to support us. We must aim to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Tackling Obesity is available on the NZMA’s website.