Evolving approach to combating child obesity

ISBN 978-0-478-41025-9. This report is only available online; there are no printed copies available.

Good health is important for children and families now, but also for children’s continued good health and active contribution to society into adulthood. About 31% of children between 2 and 14 years old are classed as obese (about 10%) or overweight (about 21%). The prevalence of child obesity has increased from 8% in 2006/07 to 10% in 2011/12. A 2006 estimate of total costs in health care and lost productivity of all people who are overweight or obese has been estimated to be about $720 million to $850 million a year.

As part of the theme of my Office’s work in 2012/13 – Our future needs – is the public sector ready? – we wanted to carry out a performance audit to understand the public sector’s approach to combating child obesity. Child obesity is a multifaceted problem, with multiple agencies able to influence obesity-related issues. The performance audit intended to concentrate on the Ministries of Health and Education and Sport New Zealand (formally SPARC), because historically these three agencies had a leadership role that focused on physical activity and nutrition.

My staff found that the Ministry of Education and Sport New Zealand no longer focus on obesity to the extent they had in the past. At the time of my staff’s work, the Ministry of Health was continuing with a range of existing interventions while testing and evaluating new ideas and approaches to identify the most effective focus for New Zealand’s efforts to combat obesity. These changing circumstances limited what my staff could usefully audit. I am publishing this report on my website to provide an overview of the work we carried out.

The Ministry is considering how it can refine and strengthen its current range of health promotion-based programmes with interventions that target critical periods of human development for greatest effect. For example, greater emphasis on supporting women to achieve a healthy weight during and after pregnancy, and on child nutrition in the first few years of life to potentially prevent obesity in later life. Over time, the Ministry expects to add new programmes to its existing range.

In early 2013, we commissioned focus groups with Māori and Pasifika families in Auckland to get their perspective on the provision of obesity-related services. The families said that they were well aware of obesity and its potential causes. A range of publicly and community-funded services and programmes were available to support these families to manage weight-related health issues. Awareness of the services and programmes varied, and families faced some other barriers to accessing and using the services, such as cost, motivation, and establishing a supportive cultural connection with providers. 

In this report we provide:

I thank staff of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Sport New Zealand for their assistance. In particular, I thank the Māori and Pasifika families in Auckland who generously gave their time to inform our work.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

7 June 2013

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