A new report has shown New Zealand to be the third fattest nation in the world, after the United States and Mexico. The Health Data 2009 report, published this month, shows each of the 30 countries monitored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are getting fatter. The report puts one in four New Zealanders in the obese category. While there are many criticisms of the body mass index (BMI) formula commonly used to calculate obesity and used in the OECD research, health authorities fear obesity related disease and complications caused by obesity will soak up scarce health funding. Health sector lobbyists have criticised the government’s funding cuts to nutrition programmes and to public messages to encourage physical activity, and the scrapping of regulations curbing fatty foods in school tuckshops.
While the issue of food available at school tuck shops has been a political battle ground over the last few years, with heated arguments between those who believe public schools should play a role in public health and those who see the state as meddling to much in the lives of citizens, the politics of food are much more complex. With the combination of the food crisis and the recession, both unemployment and food prices are on the rise. New figures from Otago University show that it costs $50 more per week than five years ago to feed a family of four. The food thats best for your health is also the most expensive. Felicity Lawrence made this point quite clear writing in The Guardian last year;
When you are on a low income you buy the kind of food that fills you up most cheaply. What may seem ignorant choices to others are in fact quite rational. [Doctor Tim] Lobstein has calculated the cost of 100 calories of food energy from different types of food. The cheapest way to get your 100 calories is to buy fats, processed starches and sugars.
There is no quick fix to obesity, but a start would be scrapping the goods and services tax on food that disproportionately affects the poor. A more ambitious plan would be more farming of fruits and vegetables to lower the cost, something that would also be a lot better for the environment than New Zealand’s massive dairy industry which uses a significant amount of arable land.