An Auckland Council-backed coalition set up to reduce obesity, increase physical activity and improve nutrition has found mixed results in its first analysis of the city’s environment.
Healthy Auckland Together has looked at 16 indicators of healthy behaviours or supportive infrastructure, and found positive gains in nine areas in its first monitoring report.
Spokesperson Dr Michael Hale says the best news was a small but significant decrease in the proportion of Māori and Pacific Island boys who were obese at their before-school health check in 2014, compared with 2012.
The obesity rates for the under-fives have remained stable for other ethnicities in the region, but the proportion of Pacific Island children who were obese dropped by 2.5 percentage points for boys. and girls by 1.4 percentage points. For Māori boys, the prevalence of obesity reduced by 2.5 percentage points.
Obesity rates may be stabilising
These sound like small percentage changes, but as a proportion of the total, they are important – a relative decline of 14 per cent in obesity for Pacific boys from 17.25 per cent to 14.75 per cent, Dr Hale says.
“We need more information to be able to say definitively why this trend is occurring. It may be because of early childhood policies, awareness around sugar, improved prenatal care or many other causes.
"However, it does reflect the same stabilisation in obesity rates seen in other developed countries,” he says.
The drop in the percentage of obese children in the Pacific community has been offset by a rise in the percentage of overweight children, so there’s been little change in the 57 to 58 per cent of Pacific children who are of normal weight.
“Unfortunately we still have an intractable health crisis with over two-thirds of Auckland adults and a third of children overweight or obese,” Dr Hale says.
Rise in public transport use
The report has found mixed success when looking at other key measures, with a significant rise in public transport patronage, which usually increases walking to and from the bus or train.
There has been a small upswing in cycling and walking to work, but it will take an investment in infrastructure and a larger critical mass of people on the streets before this will impact on broader physical activity levels in Auckland, he says.
“If the Auckland urban environment were a patient, it would be in first signs of recovery, but still a way to go before it’s healthy,” says Dr Hale.
The food environment is still wretched for many Aucklanders, with a saturation of cheap, low quality food, and fewer healthier choices in some suburbs, he says. This is reflected in the deteriorating diets of poorer families with an increase in fast food meals eaten a week.
Other indicators show that:
- There’s been a reduction in fruit and vegetable intake for adults in the region
- The number of filled, missing and decayed primary teeth in children remains high, especially for Pacific Island and Māori children
- There’s been a drop off in the number of adults who report they are active for 150 minutes a week
- A small increase in people walking or biking to work
- Consistent growth in the patronage of public transport, up to 8.4 per cent
- There is an average of 2.5 fast food premises within 10 minutes’ walk of a primary, intermediate or secondary school
- There are distinct concentrations of fast food outlets within poorer communities. Around 95 per cent of people in the poorest areas have more fast food outlets than supermarkets, or fruit and vegetable grocers, within a 10 minute drive.
Healthy Auckland Together has a five-year plan to improve the city’s food, urban, school, work and transport environments as these all contribute to Aucklanders’ health.
Read the full monitoring report.