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Urgency needed to address the obesity pandemic

Thursday 8 July 2021 2:24pm

Professor Jim Mann, Co-Director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre and Director of the Healthier Lives - He Oranga Hauora National Science Challenge, has explained in an Otago Daily Times (ODT) opinion piece why we urgently need action to address the obesity pandemic.

Professor Mann says the obesity pandemic has caused a greater degree of ill-health and premature death in most countries than Covid-19. Obesity is driving escalating rates of type 2 diabetes and is an important risk factor for heart disease, several types of cancer, hypertension, gout, polycystic ovarian syndrome, osteoarthritis and bone fractures in children.

The obesity pandemic is being driven by the availability of highly processed foods that are high in fats and sugars. This leads to the accumulation of excess body fat, particularly if there are lower levels of physical activity.

One part of the solution is to prevent people from becoming obese by creating an environment that encourages healthy eating and regular physical activity.  A range of public health measures such as healthy foods in schools, restricting junk food advertising and introducing a sugar levy, are essential to the management of the obesity pandemic.

The other important part of the solution is to support people who are trying to lose weight in order to reduce their health risks. Many people would benefit from the support of dietitians and other health professionals who are able to provide scientifically sound nutrition and exercise advice, as well as the support required to make lifestyle changes.  At present, New Zealand does not have enough trained professionals able to offer this support, says Professor Mann.

A range of other supports for weight loss could be useful in some contexts such as drugs, very low-calorie liquid formula diets, bariatric surgery and other devices. But Professor Mann clearly outlines what is needed right now:

"..acknowledgement from the media, public, healthcare providers and Government that we are facing a pandemic that needs to be managed using the same principles as those required for controlling a global infectious disease outbreak."

Read the ODT opinion piece

‘Obesogenic’ factors must be tackled, 7 July, ODT, 2021

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