Govt wants obese kids treated by doctors

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman (Simon Wong)
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman (Simon Wong)

By Peter Wilson

The Government aims to have nearly all obese children referred to a doctor by the end of 2017.

The target is central to a new plan to reduce childhood obesity, announced today by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

Alongside it are public information and physical activity programmes, but there are no plans to put a tax on fatty foods.

The Government isn't going to try to regulate the amount of sugar in food and Dr Coleman says evidence that taxing fizzy drinks reduces obesity is inconclusive.

He thinks that over time it would be a good thing to get them out of schools, and there's going to be a review of healthy eating programmes in schools.

Dr Coleman says he's working with the food industry on what role they can play, with options including "appropriate marketing and advertising" as well as food labelling.

It's estimated that one in nine children are obese and a further two are overweight.

The plan is to identify them early through the free B4 School Check for four-year-olds.

More than 58,600 children were checked last year and Dr Coleman says about 1400 were referred to doctors or other health professionals.

"By December 2017, 95 percent 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," Dr Coleman said.

He expects that by the end of 2017, more than 4000 children will have been identified as obese and referred for assessment.

At the same time there will be a range of new advice on offer for families, because New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD.

There will be increased support for people who are at risk of becoming obese.

Pregnant women will be told about the importance of eating properly and not putting on weight.

Dr Coleman says that next year obesity is expected to overtake smoking as the leading preventable health risk in New Zealand.

"By focusing on children we expect to also influence the whole family," he said.

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