NZ Election 2020: Judith Collins doubles down on obesity comments, targets time-poor parents

Judith Collins has stood by her obesity comments despite a leading health expert asking her to explain how there has been a "global collapse of willpower" that's led to obesity rates tripling worldwide in the past five decades. 

It's either that or two in every five adults on the planet has chosen to be fat, says University of Auckland professor of population nutrition and global health Boyd Swinburn.

Collins on Tuesday said Kiwis need to take "personal responsibility" for their weight, calling it a "weakness" and being obese a "personal choice". 

"You know what, take some personal responsibility," she told reporters in Wellington.

"We all have to own up to our little weaknesses."

She doubled-down on those comments during an appearance on The AM Show on Wednesday, blaming parents for their children's weight gain. 

"If we keep making excuses and saying, 'Oh parents are too busy,' yes of course. It doesn't take actually much to get frozen vegetables out of the freezer and pull them out and do something with them. It's not that hard."

Dr Swinburn told Newshub Collins' victim-blaming is "coming from a place of privilege, a lack of understanding and empathy, but above all it's ignoring the evidence." 

In a prior article for the New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Swinburn said Kiwi kids are growing up in an "obesogenic environment" rife with fast-food options and junk food advertising

"Families live in neighbourhoods which are surrounded by all of the different fast food outlets which use cheap ingredients full of sugar, fat and salt," Dr Swinburn told Newshub. "That's the choice they have around them - it's no wonder that people do gain weight." 

"Obesity is increasing in every country around the world, and if the Leader of the Opposition puts this down to a global collapse of willpower, or globally everybody wanting to be fat, I think that's just shallow and wrong thinking," said Dr Swinburn. 

"It's a kind of victim-blaming at its worst. It's clear that the global obesity epidemic - or pandemic actually - is caused by a global explosion of junk food - foods which are creating obesity. It's relatively clear if you look at the evidence." 

Boyd Swinburn.
Boyd Swinburn. Photo credit: File

'Big carbs in your mouth' to blame - Collins

Collins said it's "not that complicated".

"It's all about what we put into our mouths - calories in and calories out. I realise that there are a very few number of people that have medical conditions that make them obese, but actually most of us, we have to take some personal responsibility... don't blame a system when it's not the system sticking the big carbs in your mouth."

No plans to tackle obesity

Asked what her Government would do to tackle the obesity epidemic here, which costs the Government an estimated minimum $624 million a year in health costs, Collins suggested nothing. 

"You know what I think? Okay, it's not my problem actually... I didn't come into politics to become a namby-pamby wowser." 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

A third of Kiwi kids are overweight. Asked if there should perhaps be an "obesity check" in early childhood, Collins said that was for parents to do, not the Government. 

"It's not a lack of personal willpower - it's a lack of political willpower," said Dr Swinburn, who said the current Government was also not doing enough.

"The National-led Government and the Labour-led Government have not been able to stack up the political willpower to support the health of our children."