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After the United States and Mexico, New Zealand has the highest rate of obesity in the OECD. Of the ten countries in the world with the highest proportion of people classified as obese, nine are located in the Pacific. When I started nursing in the 1980s the obesity rate in New Zealand was 11%. The current obesity rate for people aged 15 and older is 31%.
The health impacts of obesity include the early onset of heart disease, the development of some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. These diseases are life altering not just for the person who develops them but also for their family and friends. Unfortunately these diseases can cause serious health complications including premature death.
Obesity and type 2 diabetes are strongly linked. There are more than 257,000 people living with type 2 diabetes in New Zealand. Dr Robyn Toomath, Endocrinologist and Clinical Director of General Medicine at Auckland Hospital, has encouraged the development of environments that make it easier to remain healthy. In a recent interview in North and South, Dr Toomath said she was motivated to do this because she was “…was enraged and driven especially seeing teenagers with type 2 diabetes.”
In my nursing role at Student Health I have worked with students as young as 18 who have type 2 diabetes. This is hard to believe – when I started nursing, type 2 diabetes was a condition people developed towards the end of their lives, not when they were still at school or studying at university.
What has happened in New Zealand since the 1980s leading to the increase in obesity rates? We’ve seen an increased availability of energy dense, but nutrient poor, foods and drinks, aggressive targeted advertising, an increase in the consumption of sugary drinks, and people leading more sedentary lives. It is not fair that people are suffering poor health and dying earlier due to obesity.
Many institutions advocate for policy and environmental change rather than individual change. This is because it is difficult to make healthy choices when we are surrounded by unhealthy options. What changes would you like see to assist you, your friends, and your family to live longer and healthier lives? Student Health is keen to hear ideas about ways of improving food and drink environments and would welcome your thoughts and suggestions. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.