Monday, December 7, 2009

New Zealand Nutrition Conference

I thought if I just wrote obesity conference as the title, you might skip this read due to obesity burnout. I will keep it short for you.

Tomorrow in New Zealand - Wellington to be exact, nutrition experts from across the country are meeting with tobacco control experts in an attempt to revitalize the campaign against obesity. The rates of overweight and obese are similar in New Zealand to USA and other western countries. About 33% of adults are overweight and 25% are obese. They may have more obese adults than the USA.

In a press release about the up coming conference the Cancer Society Health Promotion Manager, Dr. J. Pearson shared some of her thoughts or concerns and here I will share those that resonated with me.

She said that they (the country) needed to tackle this problem the way New Zealand and other countries have dealt with tobacco. Many countries have successfully reduced their national smoking rates, some, like the USA have cut them in half. You know how it was done - ongoing campaigns about the dangers, increase in cost, limited access and promotion, esp. to children, and medications or programs to assist in quitting.

When Dr. Pearson mentioned the advertising of unhealthy and fast foods I had a thought. Remember when tobacco ads were more prominent? Do you ever remember seeing a person who looked sick (or dry skinned and wrinkly) smoking a cigarette? No. Do you see many obese people doing commercials for Twinkies, Fritos, sodas and McDonald's?

I understand that eating is pleasureful but for some it is a pleasure substitute or a lack of understanding. Even if food makes you happy I am near certain that being overweight does not bring you contentment. When we first started to crack down on smoking people - addicts, became upset that the government was trying to control them and tell them what to do. That is mostly because the tobacco companies were minimizing the health effects and glamorizing smoking. Now that the majority of the population DOES believe that tobacco kills, having limited access to tobacco and being protected from tobacco smoke is seen as a GOOD thing.

So think of a person who is hearing that obesity, even moderate overweight(ness) , can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis but seeing healthy, slim, active people eating high fat high calorie foods? Or the person wants to eat the lower calorie plant based or Mediterranean diet but cannot find those foods or afford them?

As Dr. Pearson said, "It is like telling a smoker not to smoke, then putting them in a room full of smokers and handing them a cartoon of cigarettes!"

On a final note, there is also concern in New Zealand that many of the schools healthy lunch programs have lost funding and that the Government seems to think that increasing physical activity is going to solve the problem. As I have learned and Dr. Pearson notes "strong international evidence" is telling us that this problem cannot be solved if people do not start eating LESS calories. Physical Activity is a must for good health and disease prevention but it is NOT a first line weight loss strategy, calorie control, is.

Now stay tuned tomorrow for news on the problem of obesity in our PETS :)

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