Thursday, August 8, 2013

Obesity is now the biggest contributor to poor health in New Zealand

The news that obesity is now the biggest contributor to poor health in New Zealand should come as no surprise. That is has replaced smoking in this position just goes to inform us that the combining of the two would send huge warning messages to future health planners. For now, let’s just take obesity.
We know that being overweight, particularly in the obese category, leads to serious health issues, including the main culprits, diabetes (type 2), blood pressure, cholesterol issues, sleep apnoea and heart problems and you could add others along with the combinations of the already mentioned.
We know that the health bill for our nation is a bourgeoning one and obesity feeds that ever expanding reality. Why have we become a fat nation? We can look to changing lifestyles and the influence of fast foods along with a generally changing attitude to ‘preparing food in the home. Some use their ‘busy lifestyle as a reason for reaching for processed (and fat, sugar, salt-laden foods) and takeaway meals. The days when ‘Mum stayed at home and cooked the family meal from ingredients that were often gown in the back yard (in terms of vegetables) and form recipes handed down through the ages. Basic three veggies and meat were the order of the day.
Compare that to the fried carbs and fatty options on the menu for today and you start to get the picture. Speaking of ‘pictures’ and images; think about them! Look at the options continually assaulting you from TV screens and billboards. Think of the adverts that scream at us to eat this or that ‘convenient’ food. Observe the queues outside the drive-in windows for some of the big outlets that have plagued the NZ landscape for the past few generations and you can add to the image of our ‘fat nation.’
Whenever anyone talks about changing our attitudes to what we eat you will hear a cry of ‘no way----nanny state should have no part in telling us what to eat!’
Really? It is the State (via our taxes) who pays the bill for the health issues down the track. Is this what we want?
Then we have other sectors who gain from NZ being fat, other than the obvious purveyors of ‘ill health intake.’  Think about the ‘health industry---the one that besieges us with images of lean, mean and healthy looking people. The gyms, personal trainers and those who sell ‘diets’ also make huge amounts of money from the fattening of NZ.
So on one side we have the sectors that gain from ‘our collective gain’ and on the other, us the taxpayers (or the holders of health insurance) who ‘contain the damage.’  There is nothing surprising about the announcement today but is there a willingness to face the overall issue of what we are eating and how we live our lives.
How are we going to find the balance between free choice, enjoyment of ‘fun’ foods and somehow addressing the serious health issues that go along with the modern lifestyle? At what point does one of the main stakeholders, the State, initiate a discussion as to how we want to proceed to cut the ‘waists’ and turn NZ back to healthier options. I know from my own ‘journey’ that there are options out there; extreme maybe to some people, but certainly effective. My answer (Bariatric surgery) is not one that I suggest works for most. I would far prefer we did not get to the point that a surgical intervention becomes necessary, but if all else fails and we continue to loosen our belts or worse still, buy even bigger ones, then bring on the option I chose.
I can hear the howls and the nasty words, critiquing and judging those of us who have become ‘fat,’ and I know the suggestion they will offer. The simple fact is that most of those solutions have not worked for the vast number of people who have tried them, because for the most part, they are not sustainable. The only times nations have ‘slimmed down,’ have been in times of war and general long term deprivation but as soon as the restrictions were lifted, back came Mr fatty.’
So---how about we don’t point fingers or put down those who are ‘big’ or continually allow for the ever expanding fast-food, pre-packaged options, overly processed, overworked, information starved families and individuals try to ‘do it on their own?’ Only as a nation can we come to terms with our ‘fat predicament. For those who want to be left alone to follow their ‘programmes,’ fine; no one is asking you to change---you are doing just fine----for now and hopefully long-term!