The Government’s new plan to reduce obesity starts with identifying obese kids at age four and also focusing on healthy weight gain for women during pregnancy.
From July 2016, all 4-year-olds who have a B4 School Check (an appointment with a nurse to talk about your child’s health) and are obese will have access to advice on nutrition and physical activity.
Lead maternity carers (midwives, obstetricians and GPs) are also being encouraged to refer expectant mothers with a high risk of developing diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes) for a Green Prescription (written advice for getting active and a contact person for on-going support).
There are also new guidelines for health professionals in finding and treating gestational diabetes and for healthy weight gain limits in pregnancy.
What’s more, the Government is starting a new public information campaign about healthy lifestyle choices in 2016 and is working with the food industry and will review marketing and advertising of food targeted at children.
“The focus is on food, the environment and being active at each life stage, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood – the stages that are vital for development,” says Dr Pat Tuohy, Chief Advisor Child and Youth Health from the Ministry of Health.
One in nine children in New Zealand are obese with a further two overweight. Childhood obesity happens in all parts of society: whether you are Maori, European, Pacific or Asian, male or female, rich or poor, obesity doesn’t discriminate.
Being obese is particularly concerning in kids as it is associated with a wide range of health conditions and increased risk of early onset of illness. It can affect a child’s health, education and quality of life.
However, several experts, commentators and members of the public aren’t convinced the Government’s plan goes far enough.
Boyd Swinburn, Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health, University of Auckland, says the World Health Organization (WHO) has gathered evidence on what works for reducing obesity and written authoritative reports with recommendations, getting governments to sign up to them.
"Then we get this plan which bears little resemblance to those recommendations,” Professor Swinburn says.
"Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the prime minister’s chief science advisor, co-chaired the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) which produced an excellent report in September,” he says.
"The government’s plan has a few positive new strategies, but it is a watery, timid rendition of the ECHO report."
Plan to reduce childhood obesity Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman, 2015
Childhood obesity plan Ministry of Health, 2015
Focusing on childhood obesity Ministry of Health, 2015
Childhood obesity plan – Expert reaction Science Media Centre, 2015