The growing number of people becoming overweight or obese has increased in rate dramatically in New Zealand in recent years. It raises a great concern of how to address obesity in a social level. Some people may claim that obesity is a personal issue and not a social problem; however, there is evidence that obesity is associated with an increased risk of health conditions (Ministry of health, 2014) and finally influences the public health costs. In this essay, I will argue that it is time for the NZ government to take action to help to address this growing issue of obesity in order to reduce the public health cost of obesity related diseases.
In recent years, the rate of obesity is rising at an alarming level in New Zealand. According to the 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey, nearly one third of New Zealand adults and 11% of children are obese. At the same time, the percentage of obesity in Maori and Pacific people are also considerable, being 48% and 68% respectively. These statistics illustrate a sharp increase from the previous decade, from 1997 to 2013, the number of people who become obese almost doubled (Ministry of Health. 2014). Meanwhile, the cost of health care has also increased sharply over the last several decades in New Zealand. According to an article from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the cost of health care connected to overweight and obese was estimated to be 4.5% of New Zealand’s total health care expenditure in 2006 (Lal, etc, 2012). Clearly the increasing cost burden of obesity in NZ is a serious issue and cannot be overlooked.
The main reason to support the government taking actions is because governments can organize campaigns about prevention of obesity, or put extra tax on junk food. This kind of action can affect not only the individual but also the whole of society. For example, putting extra tax on junk food or reducing the tax on healthy food might lead consumers to reconsider their choices in the market when buying food (Koebler, 2012). Furthermore, investing more money in public exercise facilities might help to influence change in the lifestyle of citizens to some extent. There are some examples of entire countries –including Holland and some Scandinavian countries –where urban design has made the use of bicycles safer and more viable on many roads, and the construction of safe walkways for pedestrains has encouraged citizens to do more exercise in their daily life, thus, preventing people from overweight and obesity at an early stage. Another possible option for governments could be to apply a compulsory policy ensuring that lunches provided in schools are much healthier. All of these actions above can change the situation with obesity considerably at a social level.
Secondly, as obesity is a major factor for many diseases, such as chronic, diabetes, heart diseases and many common cancers (Ministry of health, 2014), the increasing rate of obesity might lead a sharp increase in the public costs of obesity related diseases, thus, laying a heavy burden on government finance. According to an article from ANZJPH (Lal, etc, 2012), the health care costs attributed to overweight and obesity were estimated to be 4.5% of New Zealand’s total health care costs in 2006. It is clear that the health care cost for obesity related diseases has already laid a heavy burden on the government expenditure. If the government can reduce the expense of treating diseases by preventing obesity in the first place, then the tax paid by the citizens could then be used more effectively.
The third reason to support government intervention is that it is difficult for individuals, especially those with less access to education about nutrition or to get information without government help. The statistics shows that Maori and Pacific people have a