Kiwis retain bronze placing in obesity stakes
Kiwis are fat and getting fatter.
A new Organisation for Economic co-operation and Development (OECD) ‘‘obesity update’’ shows that nearly one-in-three Kiwis is obese and the only fatter nations are the United States and Mexico. New Zealand has been in third place since at least 2007 but then 26.5 adults were obese.
That rate has crept up to 30.7 per cent. While no predictions were made in the report of where New Zealand’s waistlines were heading, it did show that all countries were predicted to see a ‘‘steady increase’’ in obesity until at least 2030. The US, with a 38.2 per cent obesity rate, then Mexico, at 32.4 per cent, were the two most obese nations, while Japan then Korea – at 3.7 and 5.3 per cent respectively – were the least obese.
Christchurch bariatric surgeon Steven Kelly said: ‘‘Basically, it’s bad and it’s getting worse.
‘‘Obesity continues to increase at 0.5 per cent year on year, and it’s certainly not slowing up.’’
Some of his patients had body mass indexes (BMIs) of between 70 to 80. BMI anywhere over 30 is considered obese, while 40 or above is morbidly obese.
‘‘Every week now, I would see a patient who is over 200 kilograms.
‘‘Ten years ago you would be lucky if you saw one 200kg person a year.’’
The Ministry of Health statistics – which are more recent than the OECD ones – state almost one in three people aged 15 or over is obese.
Why are we so fat?
The reasons for New Zealand’s burgeoning waistlines were complex, but it was essentially a toxic combination of genetics and our environment, Kelly said.
For most of history, food scarcity and famines had kept civilisation lean, he said.
‘‘Now, we live with the same genes but have energy-dense readily-available food anywhere. ‘‘And everybody overeats.’’
The average Kiwi ate 350 more calories every day than they needed, Kelly said.
Auckland bariatric surgeon Richard Barbor said we lived in a ‘‘toxic food environment’’.
‘‘The biggest thing that keeps getting spun out in the media is this fallacy of choice – that somehow eating is everybody’s individual responsibility.
‘‘If you expose humans to unhealthy foods they get fat.
‘‘The human body isn’t designed to fend off all these cor- porate food outlets. Our population needs protection from toxic foods.’’
That was where actions such as banning junk food advertising to children, adopting sugar taxes and putting restraints on people selling refined carbohydrates should come in, he said.
Public health Professor Tony Blakely from Otago University believed excess energy intake was the biggest reason behind the epidemic. ‘‘The food industry ... creates foods that are tasty and enjoyable to us so we’re left with excess energy intake.
‘‘If we’re going to turn this around we do need to change the environment.’’