Learn to eat, eat to learn': The doctor taking on childhood obesity in Glen Innes

He's worked on the health of A-list celebrities, designed and commissioned his own shoes, and now he's trying to change the eating habits of children at a Decile 1 school in Auckland's Glen Innes. 

Dr Sharad Paul is one of those people who instantly makes you feel inspired, and also inferior.

Interviewing him, I felt guilty for all those hours I had spent wasted sleeping in my life.

"I could have been getting a medical degree, a law degree, writing books and funding knowledge programs for kids", I thought furiously to myself. "What a fool, spending so much time wasted." 

Then, maybe I too could have been a finalist for New Zealander of the Year in 2012, and awarded the NZ Medical Association's highest award, The Chair's Award.

Dr Paul, a doctor, creative writer, academic and what you might call a 'Renaissance Man', has also been running literacy programmes in low-decile schools for over a decade. During that time, he says he was shocked by the low levels of nutrition and access to healthy food in the schools he worked at. 

Dr Paul in his new nutrition classroom at Glen Taylor Primary.
Dr Paul in his new nutrition classroom at Glen Taylor Primary. Photo credit: Newshub.

As of last year, New Zealand has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD, with over 1 million Kiwis in the country classified as obese.

Good nutrition is an issue many low-income families struggle with; how to feed the family well on increasingly tight budgets. Dr Paul said his work revealed that many Kiwi kids are starting off at a disadvantage.

"Because I've been working with these schools for over a decade I can see the gap is widening," he said.

"One cannot have poor health and achieve good learning outcomes."

"Learn to eat, eat to learn," is another one of his snappy sayings.

But he's not just talking the talk. Dr Paul has reached into his own pocket to build the first nutrition classroom at Glen Taylor School in Glen Innes.

Dr Paul and the kids of Glen Taylor
Dr Paul outside the classroom with some Glen Taylor Primary schoolkids, and Chris Herlihy (Principal). Photo credit: Supplied

"In Auckland alone, there are nearly 100 low-decile schools. That is frightening. For many of these 'brown and poor' kids, it isn't realistic to become a doctor or lawyer. I am hoping just to inspire one child to go onto greatness... then my work will be done," he said.

That sentiment is echoed on the outside of the wall of the mobile unit, which will be used to teach kids about "eating their colours".

"We all know that if you don't have good health, you don't have good education, and vice versa. I really thought, 'what could I do to make a small difference' [and] I thought we'd add health into the mix."