Rotorua Weekender: Healthy homes; Happy communities

Friday, October 30, 2015

When I was at school exercise happened much more naturally, and without so many rules and regulations. Kids would play rugby or netball in their breaks. There would be running, jumping, hopscotch and, heaven forbid, there was even quite a lot of bull-rush out on the field.

How things have changed. Obesity is now expected to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable health risk in New Zealand within the next 12 months.

Obesity robs people of their lives, reduces enjoyment, and adds considerable cost to both families and the country's health budget. There are no simple solutions, it's not about taxing sugary drinks, and this is a problem that has developed over many, many years and through successive governments. The solution must be found away from politicised gimmicks and sound bites, some politicians would merely tax or ban everything - it needs to start in the home.

We need to start with our children. Last week the Minister of Health unveiled the Government’s plan to reduce obesity among Kiwis. It's ambitious and a great start. It's a partnership with communities and a way to engage mums and dads and their kids.

The Childhood Obesity Plan involves 22 initiatives grouped into three themes: targeted interventions for those who are obese; increased support for those at risk of becoming obese; and broad strategies for making healthier choices easier. The plan focuses on children, because the evidence shows that’s where we can have the most impact.

At its centre is a new childhood obesity health target which will come into force from 1 July 2016. Under the target, 95 per cent of children identified as obese in the B4 School Check will be referred to a health professional for assessment and family based nutrition, activity, and lifestyle interventions. This target means DHBs will be measured on their success, healthier families in our towns and cities.

The B4 School Checks are already accessible for Rotorua families. In fact, a record 97 per cent of eligible four-year-olds have received a B4 School Check, meaning parents of more than 2,000 local children now know they are in good health before starting school, or had issues identified at an early stages.

Other initiatives in the plan include access to nutrition and physical activities programmes for families, guidance for healthy weight gain in pregnancy, and referrals for woman at risk of gestational diabetes. We will also work with industries on what role they can play in tackling the problem.

There is no one single solution to address obesity. That’s why we have developed a range of tools across Government, the private sector, communities, schools, and families. More community programmes will be rolled out and, existing ones such as Healthy Families NZ, will be enhanced so they provide nutrition and activity advice to those who need it most.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue. It can result in some of our children having shorter lives than their parents. It’s important that we tackle this issue head on, with a comprehensive strategy that will mean healthier and happier children in Rotorua.