Guest Post: TEN YEARS AND $317.5 MILLION LATER… AND STILL GETTING FATTER

A guest post by Carrick Graham:

The current rate of in New Zealand (particularly child ) is a concern of every New Zealander.

As a small country of limited resources it is important to make sure that our government’s investment in reducing rates of obesity is effective.

For the last decade I have been tracking the funding streams of public money spent by the Ministry of Health on obesity related services via contracts with non-government organisations/service providers.

Collectively over this period the Government has spent approximately $317,565,118 to address obesity concerns in New Zealand. This figure was obtained from official data provided by the Ministry of Health and released under the Official Information Act 1986.

This $317.5 million figure does not include research grants or other funding for academic research on obesity. Research grants identified by my company Facilitate Communications, to just a few well-known researchers in the field total more than $16 million and represents the tip of the iceberg of government and other funding sources for obesity related research.

Two successive governments have spent significant amounts following the same strategy of funding an array of NGOs and action groups and still there appears to be little change in New Zealand’s obesity statistics.

Perhaps it is time to take stock of the situation and ask whether there could be a different outcome if that same money was invested in a different way?

There are concerns that public money continues to be spent on groups that do little aside from talk to themselves at conferences for which they’ve utilised public money to organise, and naturally attend. Imagine if more of that $317.5 million had been spent on engaging more New Zealanders to lead healthier lives?

One such example is the group Agencies for Nutrition Action. For the last six years they have received more than $1.8 million from the Ministry of Health for ‘Nutrition and Physical Activity’ services. The expected outcomes could be best described as a ‘talkfest’ with little if any measurable impact on obesity levels.

Having researched this area for 15 years I see too often it is the same academics talking to the same people rather than sparking positive change out in the community.

Recently the Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman instructed the Ministry of Health to develop an obesity prevention plan in response to the high and increasing levels of obesity in New Zealand. One positive result is that the Ministry is now only contracting nutritional and physical activity servies for a further one-year period – until future service priorities are known.

But a fundamental question remains. 

With the Ministry having spent and continuing to spend on average $31 million dollars per year for the last 10 years on obesity related service providers, there is a real question about the effectiveness of this spend.

I believe a review of this spend and its findings would have signicant public interest.

This point is further reinforced with the New Zealand Health Survey indicates 1.2m New Zealanders are obese; and this rate is increasing. Certainly questions could be raised about the efficacy of continuing with spending $30 million on service providers when that money could be utilised in generating more physical activities in schools, clubs or sporting organisations that focus on getting kids out exercising.

The Government’s Healthy Families NZ initiative is certainly a step in the right direction. Other successful programmes could be adopted from overseas to meet local community needs.

The ‘Let’s Move!’ programme, announced by Michelle Obama in 2010 is but one example and  promotes physical activity through the support and cooperation of families, schools and communities. The official ‘Let’s Move! “Move Your Body” music video has been viewed 32 million times.

Contrast this initiaitive against the outputs of a multitude of government funded contracts – such as that with the Agencies for Nutrition Action (a six monthly report to the Ministry’s contract manager outlinging the meetings, workshops or consultations they’ve had) and it is glaringly obvious that the later is not going to achieve the goals of reducing obesity in New Zealand.

In light of the significant amount of public funding that has been spent with no apparent success in reducing the level of obesity in New Zealand, a reprioritisation or reapportioning of funding to more community-focused initiatives for real New Zealanders seems highly appropriate. 

It seems to me that if you continue to fund the same groups in the same way you will get the same result. Perhaps it is time for a different approach.

Disclosure: ’s Facilitate Communications has advised clients on how to deal with increasing calls for regulation and restrictions on products within the food supply chain.

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