Source: New Zealand Herald, 19 September 2016
Forty per cent of obese children and adolescents in a New
Zealand study have been found to be at high risk of developing type
2 diabetes in future.
This is one of an alarming list of health risks discovered in
the more than 200 Taranaki youngsters aged 4 to 16 in the study,
the first in this country to assess the rate of health risks
associated with obesity in young people.
"We need to start taking childhood obesity seriously because we
have got an epidemic on our hands," said Dr Yvonne Anderson, a
Taranaki paediatrician and researcher at Auckland University's
A co-author of the study, she said it was of great concern that
major health risks were present at such a young age.
Nationally, 11 per cent of children aged 2-14 are obese. The
rates are higher in Maori and Pacific children and among those who
live in deprived areas. New Zealand has the third largest
percentage of overweight and obese children in the OECD after
Greece and Italy.
The study is part of an obesity-intervention trial - whose
results are not yet available - that involves support from various
health workers to help the young people make healthy lifestyle
changes. This includes physical activities, cooking and group and
Health checks found 75 per cent had inflammatory markers of
future heart disease risk, 47 per cent had at least one abnormal
liver function result, 43 per cent had an abnormal
cholesterol/lipids profile, and 40 per cent had skin changes that
indicate a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
"These children are not just carrying a bit of extra weight,"
said Anderson. "What we've shown is that their bodies are
struggling. They have health indicators that can be life-limiting
if left unaddressed."
The researchers, whose report is published in the Journal
of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the burden of disease they
found, if not addressed, "will be likely to have a considerable
impact on these children's health and wellbeing, adding
unsustainable pressure on NZ's health system."
Anderson said the Government had made a great start with its
childhood obesity target, but there was a shortage of treatment
"We don't have nationwide access to interventions."
Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition at Auckland
University, agreed, saying, "There's a real need for the Government
to create referral and management options."
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's office declined to answer
questions about the study. His spokeswoman said nothing had changed
in his position on child obesity issues. "I think our position on
this has been well documented."
Coleman in October last year announced his childhood obesity
plan, including making dealing with child obesity one of his Health
Under the target, he said that by December next year, "95 per
cent 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
He said the 22 initiatives in the plan comprise targeted
interventions for those who are obese, increased support for those
at risk of becoming obese, and broad strategies to make healthier
The minister has consistently ruled out imposing a sugary drink
tax such as the one introduced by Mexico and several other
jurisdictions and sought by many public health and medical experts
in New Zealand but opposed by the food and drinks industry.
Swinburn said the Government's Healthy Families scheme running
in 10 communities is a valuable programme trying to prevent obesity
but the state needed to adopt the World Health Organisation's child
obesity prevention recommendations, such as the sugary drinks tax
and clamping down on food marketing to children.
Health risks in obese young people
• 75% - signs of inflammation that elevates future heart
• 40% - skin changes indicating high risk of future type 2
• 47% - abnormal liver function
• 43% - abnormal cholesterol/high triglyceride
• 11% - abnormal blood pressure