Health expert says Govt misses the point to reduce childhood obesity

By Wepiha Te Kanawa

A Māori health expert is critical of a State plan to prevent and manage child obesity.  Interventions and increased support for preschool children at risk are some of the initiatives outlined in a package that has been announced by the Government.  But Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) says it’s meaningless.

New Zealand has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD and the Government's new plan on tackling childhood obesity has this health expert worried.  Jones, Senior Lecturer at Te Kupenga Hauora, Māori Health Department of Auckland University says, “The childhood obesity plan that they've got really misses the mark, it's really focusing on individual children and their families. Putting the ownership on them to make changes and really failing to address the underlining drivers of childhood obesity.”

The Government's obesity plan includes public awareness campaigns and access to nutrition and physical activity programmes for families.

On Garus Avenue, a pie and a donut is what kids can buy for just $4 and just across the road is a school.  Dr Jones says the access children have to these kinds of foods is a major problem.

“It's about often having easy access to sugary drinks and affordable access to junk food, unhealthy foods through tuck shops and dairies and other fast food outlets.  Which are much more accessible and affordable often then the healthier food options.”

He says the government's refusal to tax sugary food is also a concern.

“Or to really proper restrictions on marketing and advertising of junk foods and it seems to me as though the government's really more concerned not offending the food and beverage industry then they are about actually improving the health of our tamariki.”