Government Clueless to Tackling Obesity Situation in New Zealand #NZPols

Government seems more interested in “fat shaming” than real prevention


The recent Government announcement on supposed initiatives to tackle the growing obesity crisis is as I expected – useless. Rather than a whole scale change in our culture starting with urban planning and working down to making sure good food is readily accessible (example being community gardens) the Government thinks it can act authoritarian through the following:

Plan to reduce childhood obesity

Jonathan Coleman – 19 OCTOBER, 2015

Health Minister and Sport and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman has today announced a comprehensive plan to reduce childhood obesity.

“Being overweight or obese is expected to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable risk to health in New Zealand within the next 12 months,” says Dr Coleman.

“There is no single solution that will fix obesity. That’s why we have developed a range of interventions across Government, the private sector, communities, schools and families.

“The Childhood Obesity Plan includes improved public information and resources; increasing physical activity, some of which will be done in education settings; actions for the health sector, and the food and beverage industry.

“Our plan focuses on children as that’s where the evidence shows we can have the greatest influence. By focusing on children we expect to also influence the whole family.”

The 22 initiatives in the plan are a mix of new or an expansion of existing services which are grouped into three key themes:

  • Targeted interventions for those who are obese
  • Increased support for those at risk of becoming obese
  • Broad strategies to make healthier choices easier

“At the core of the plan is a new childhood obesity health target. This target will be part of the health targets programme from 1 July 2016,” says Dr Coleman.

“By December 2017, 95 per cent of children identified as obese in the B4 School Check will be referred to an appropriate health professional for clinical assessment and family based nutrition, activity and lifestyle interventions.

“The B4 School Check is a free health and development check for four year olds. The checks aim to identify and address any health, behavioural, social or development concerns which could affect a child’s ability to get the most benefit from school.

“Over 58,600 children have benefited from this free service in the last year. Of that, over 1,400 were referred on for obesity related support. With this target we expect that will treble to over 4,000 a year by December 2017.

“To support this new target a range of new and improved practical advice will be available for families and to assist health professionals.

“It’s also important that we encourage people to get active. A number of actions will be led by Sport NZ. The Ministry of Education is another key partner in the plan.

“Community programmes such as Healthy Families NZ will continue to roll out around the country while other programmes will be enhanced so they are better targeted to provide nutrition and activity support and advice to those who need it most.

“We are working with the food industry on the role they can play. Options discussed so far include appropriate marketing and advertising to children and food labelling.

“Childhood obesity is a serious issue which means some of our kids could end up living shorter lives than their parents.”

This package of initiatives will be funded from within existing health, sport and education budgets.

Further information about the Childhood Obesity Plan can be found on the Ministry of Health website,




So targeted interventions for those at risk including and most especially pregnant women when we have the following situations:

  • National scrapped healthy eating in schools policies in 2008 and now they are railing against young people being obese. Irony abounds #nzqt
  • Income disparity that can put fresh food out of reach of some households
  • Lack of support of school and community gardens so entire communities have free or near free access to fresh food especially in high social deprivation areas like Southern Auckland and Northland
  • Policies such as Auckland Transport’s Bermagedon which would encourage more community gardens on otherwise redundant land in residential areas of Auckland: #citizenplanners Would Have Avoided an Auckland Transport Bermagedon Cock Up #AKLPols
  • Change in planning culture that follows this hierarchy of; pedestrian, cyclist, public transport and freight, car rather than; car, freight, public transport, pedestrian. In other words continuing to design new or renew suburbs, urban areas and communities around the car rather than the people.

 More on that last bullet point from these two earlier blog posts:


I Say No to Fat Taxes, I say No to Fruit Subsidies, I Do Say Yes to Better Planning

Academia again looking in wrong direction on Obesity Issue

I see the usual shrieking around the need for what is essentially a ‘Fat and Sugar Tax’ is doing the rounds on Twitter and the NZ Herald again.

From the NZ Herald:

Tax salty, fatty foods and ‘save 2400 lives’

By Martin Johnston 

Subsidy on fruit and vegetables also needed, say researchers.

The study proposes putting a 20 per cent tax on our saltiest, fattiest foods. Photo / Thinkstock

About 2400 lives a year could be saved by putting a 20 per cent tax on our saltiest, fattiest foods and by cutting the price of fruit and vegetables with a 20 per cent subsidy.

The system of penalties and rewards would swing purchasing towards healthier options, gradually leading to a healthier population, say researchers from the universities of Auckland, Otago and Oxford, who estimated the likely effects on New Zealand death rates.

Based on Statistics NZ data, they modelled the effects of a 20 per cent price increase or decrease of quantities purchased and subsequent death rates from heart attack, stroke, diabetes and diet-related cancers.

The biggest effect of an individual component – a 6.8 per cent reduction in overall mortality – was from a 20 per cent price bump in food groups that are important contributors to our salt intake. These include bread and breakfast cereals; processed meat; sauces and condiments; beef, lamb hogget and poultry; and takeaway food and drink.


Full article:

The tax will ultimately fail for two reasons:

  1. It is a regressive tax (like GST) that has a disproportionate effect on lower incomes than those on higher incomes
  2. Our City is inaccessible. That is Auckland is not built for walking, cycling and public transport. It is built for the car. As a result we get inactivity more than if the City was built for walking, cycling and public transport rather than the car – so accessible.

To make the situation more sad is that the highest level of Type 2 Diabetes (in which poor diet and inactivity) is also in the higher social deprivation areas of Auckland – South and West Auckland. Given that both South and West Auckland are inaccessible by anything else BUT a car a Fat Tax on the lower-income earners would be double punitive.

On the flip side subsidies on fruit and vegetables wont work either for also two reasons:

  1. No distinguishing on income so those who can afford it will utilise it more to their advantage than who the subsidy was originally designed for
  2. Auckland is still inaccessible by anything OTHER than the CAR. So inactivity levels remain the same.

The main point is that Auckland is not designed for walking, cycling and public transport. Furthermore our parks network is seriously wanting especially as the City grows. The result? Well of course activity is going to be minimal if Auckland is hostile to the people who live in it.


The solution to help with this obesity issue is very straight forward. Yes education as that will help people make informed choices. The rest is done through planning and community.

Apeldoorn - local streets are easy to bike on without any special facilities
Apeldoorn – local streets are easy to bike on without any special facilities
  1. The car is not king, people are. This means walking and cycling to get from A to B or even a trip around the block should be first preference (given most commutes are within 5km of the start point). So how about:
    1. Dedicated Cycle lanes on main thoroughfares
    2. All residential non main thoroughfares reduced to a default speed of 30km/h
    3. All Metropolitan Centre streets not deemed arterials reduced to 40km/h as default
    4. More shared streets
    5. Removal of slip lanes unless Auckland Transport is willing to put in pedestrian crossings on those slip lanes
    6. Less design and construction of multi lane roads with multi lane roundabouts (Yes you Mill Road) that make things hostile for everyone
    7. Narrow streets up to discourage cars using the street as a “highway”
    8. If needed lots of speed tables
  2. Mass Transit accessible to urban Auckland. This is through frequency of services, reliability of services, infrastructure like bus lanes which are enforced, and inter modal connections at train stations.
  3. Parks, LOTS AND LOTS and I mean LOTS of parks. Whether it is in a residential area, or a parklet or even a plaza in a Metropolitan Centre one can never have too many parks within 800 metres of your home, place of work, or that shopping trip. And through parks I don’t mean big parks although those are great, I mean lots of well designed small parks (no bigger than 500m2) dotted all around the urban fabric that not only act as place for recreation but act as lungs for the City.
Central Delft - walking and cycling is a pleasure
Central Delft – walking and cycling is a pleasure

Initiatives like this would benefit communities a lot:

Community Gardens
Community Gardens

Also using some of those parks I mentioned above as community gardens where fresh vegetables and fruit are grown would also help accessibility to good (and relatively free) food.

These initiatives would go a greater distance in promoting better health incomes rather than a clumsy and regressive fat and sugar tax.

So come on people let’s get with it and build an active Auckland!



Council Banning or Restricting Dairies? How About NAFF Off

Better ways to control the “obesity” crisis

I caught last night while sitting in a Local Board meeting that the Auckland Regional Public Service and some areas of Auckland Council thought it might be a great idea to ban or (to better put it) restrict dairies in their operation or set up. This is meant to be in the name of fighting obesity.

Now to be clear the Dairy issue is entirely separate from the alcohol issue that is also floating around at the moment. But the issue at heart here is if something is wrong our first reaction should be to (over) regulate if not ban it outright. Umm no!

It is not our Council’s jurisdiction to decide what Dairies should sell nor to place bans on them either. What controls Council does have available is what zones it places down which will influence where a dairy can go. In short a dairy will usually establish itself in the Neighbourhood and Local Centre Zones, and maybe the Town Centre,and Mixed Use Zones. So if Council was so inclined it could use the Unitary Plan zones to influence where a dairy might go.

However, Council would be achieving more in tackling the obesity crisis if it got its act together on urban and transport planning. That is:

  • Lots of small parks within walking distance of residential neighbourhoods (rather than a gold plated big park some distance away that you need to drive to)
  • A pro-pedestrian streetscape and Town Centres so people are inclined to walk (our current environments are pretty hostile to walkers)
  • A decent all day, easily accessible and most of all affordable public transport system so a family might be able to ditch a car and save $7,800/year. That cash saved might be just able to allow the families to afford better quality foods.

Otherwise the rest belongs to the realm of Social Policy via Central Government. That being Decile 1-5 schools having kitchens for quality hot (and cold) meals, decent labour provisions allowing decent wages, and paying its Iron Price so families again might be able to ditch that car and divert that $7,800/year to a better food budget.

Also dairies do form two important functions to an urban environment and a lack of dairies in new subdivisions is telling. Dairies are usually within walking distance (or even cycling of you are up for some #quaxing) to get that bottle of milk and the loaf of bread. Otherwise here comes a car trip to a Town or Metropolitan Centre (thinking Botany here) just to get those two items. Great way to cause congestion (and further fuel health issues) there from an actual lack of dairies. Dairies especially in Neighbourhood or Local Centres also form a backbone to that Centre and the local community as well. We are meant to be encouraging community here not discourage it.

So bans and restrictions on dairies? Naff off. There are better tools available to fight the obesity situation!



So when will we see more whole scale change then?



One thought on “Government Clueless to Tackling Obesity Situation in New Zealand #NZPols

  1. Bravo Ben. Can only endorse your thoughts with some that I’ve been presenting recently.
    In my opinion, obesity is a direct result of poverty. It is or should be common knowledge that the income gap has been increasing exponentially in the last 6 years, as a result poor nutrition has increased also.
    Have a drive around Addison at night. The roads are so congested with parked cars that an emergency vehicle would really struggle to get through. This points to a singular lack of planning that has only supported developers maximising returns on land. I question the need for so many cars in a development that is in such close (easy walking distance) to all essential amenities. Public transport, shops, sports and recreation, churches, schools etc.
    In the rush to build more houses and increase developers returns, it seems to me that very little thought has been given to the surrounding infrastructure. The entire Takanini or North Papakura area is split in two by the rail link, 4 level crossings in such a high population density area is simply ludicrous. The chaos is something to behold. Then there are the access issues around the use of the sports fields. Fantastic amenity indeed, BUT have you seen the congestion in the area on weekends? Again a sight to behold.
    One of my own pet projects is the propagation of community based gardening schemes focused in the lower socio economic areas. I have several pilot schemes, accompanied by videos and an offer of free advice, available. We, as a society and/or community do not teach people simple life skills.
    I could go on and on about how we are treating the symptoms too often instead of preventing the problems in the first place. To be proactive instead of reactive. To stop parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and start building fences at the top. Yes, there will be a cost there always is, BUT it will be cheaper than enduring the consequences!
    Keep up the good work Ben! Kia Kaha

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