Rise in obesity in New Zealand inevitable, reveals world-first study

A world-first study shows that New Zealand's high obesity rates are inevitable due to unhealthy food environments.

The University of Auckland study shows the majority of food labelling, marketing and pricing sends an unhealthy message, and low-income neighbourhoods are most at risk.

The new three-year study explored how the availability and affordability of food affects our choices and how advertising influences us.

"Diets have changed enormously in the last several decades, largely because of the increased processed packaged foods, the number of fast food outlets in places has increased in density, the marketing has become much more sophisticated," Auckland University Nutrition and Global Health Professor Boyd Swinburn says.

The unhealthy foods available in and around schools is what health professionals are most surprised by - as well as "the degree of discrepancy of food outlets in high-income versus low-income neighborhoods".

"I was also surprised by the amount of junk food still available in schools," Mr Swinburn says.

The most deprived communities in New Zealand have 73 percent more fast food and takeaway outlets than the least deprived communities.

There are also 64 percent more convenience stores.

And when it comes to schools, there's 33 percent more fast food, convenience stores and takeaway outlets within 500 metres of the gates.

Mr Swinburn believes introducing a sugar tax is one way to tackle the growing problem - something Diabetes New Zealand agrees with.

Chief executive Heather Verry says its a simple option for New Zealand.

"Let's tax the manufacturers, and out of that we'll get the reduced sugar content," she said.

And it's not all doom and gloom - the study found one positive outcome. 

"The only real shining light I think was hospitals. Food in hospitals - the DHBs with their food policy really seem to be improving that," Mr Swinburn says.