A child obesity health target?

The Herald reports:

Health Minister is looking at introducing a Health to control child obesity. …

Auckland University obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn, representing 40 public health specialists, is scheduled to meet Dr Coleman at his Beehive office today to discuss a child obesity target. “We want to show there’s substantial public health support if he wants to go down this track,” Professor Swinburn said.

He wants the Government to aim for reducing our rate of obese and overweight children from around a third at present to around a quarter – Australia’s current rate – by 2025.

It is not inappropriate for the Government to want to reduce the obesity rate with children. A lower obesity rate would be a very good thing.

But the Government does not have a huge influence of issues such as obesity. It can guarantee good outcomes for elective surgery, and ED waiting times because it funds the public health system and can put resources in to achieve the outcomes.

On other public health issues it can reasonably comfortably achieve a such as x% of kids vaccinated, as getting parents to vaccinate their kids is not asking them to do something radically different. It is just getting them in to see a doctor.

But to try and have fewer obese kids is a different category. That requires parents (and kids) to quite radically change their behaviour. It means better parenting skills where parents take more care with what they feed their kids, and make sure they exercise more. And improving parenting skills is about as tough as it can get.

The NZ Medical Association has called for a broad front to tackle obesity, with measures such as a on sugary drinks, greater protection of children from the marketing of unhealthy foods, traffic light and a halt to fast-food outlets opening near schools.

Dr Coleman said the Government would not introduce a because it wouldn’t work.

It is good that has been rejected. But we should be wary of some of the other proposals which all involve the state deciding what foods can be advertised and sold. That is a slippery slope. Any policies should be focused on supporting parents and kids to make healthier decisions around food and exercise. Not about new taxes and restrictions.

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