Childhood obesity on the rise

22 September 2019

SouthSeas staff demonstrating healthy exercises.

The overestimate of obesity numbers in a recent Ministry of Health report does not detract from the fact that the childhood obesity crisis has escalated dramatically in the Pacific community. Poverty has been identified by some researchers as a major driver of disproportionate obesity rates among Pacific and Māori.

The Ministry of Health report says New Zealand has 7,000 fewer obese children than previously thought, following the identification of a survey error which overstated obesity estimates.

The Ministry of Health says the error was due to mismeasurement of height and weight in some children living in the Taranaki and Whanganui regions.

After correcting the data, it is now estimated there are 94,000 obese children, down from the 101,000 estimated previously.

A measurement error by one interviewer in the New Zealand Health Survey led to obesity prevalence for children aged 2–14 years being overstated by around one percent over the last 2-3 years.

The error affects three years of data from 2015/16 to 2017/18, although the 2015/16 year was less affected.

Pacific children and adults have higher obesity rates than other ethnicities.

The NZ Health Survey 2017/18 found that 30% Pacific children and 65% Pacific adults in NZ were obese. These rates are at least 2.5 times as high as the rates for non-Pacific children and adults respectively. The child obesity rate increased from 8% in 2006/07 to 12% in 2017/18. Children living in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas.

SouthSeas Healthcare CEO Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo says increasing rates of childhood obesity are a serious concern in New Zealand. Childhood obesity is on the rise, especially in Pacific communities and this is a major concern and we encourage our families and communities to eat healthily and exercise regularly.

Lemalu was part of the rugby legends match early this month organised to raise awareness of the diabetes and obesity epidemic affecting many New Zealand communities, but especially the Pacific Island and Māori communities.

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