The new health minister wants more Kiwis to get active Sunday, 7 December 2014

Jonathan Coleman is to dove-tail his health and sports portfolios to try to create a healthier, fitter and slimmer New Zealand.

The newly appointed Health Minister has nearly completed a whirlwind tour of the country's district health boards.

Coleman was also handed the sport and recreation portfolio in Prime Minister John Key's cabinet reshuffle. He said it was an opportunity to "leverage physical activity into the health area".

The 48-year-old faces a burgeoning crisis, with high body mass index predicted to overtake tobacco use as the leading risk to health by 2016.

"The nation is getting bigger and that is a major risk factor for all sorts of disease like diabetes, heart disease and a range of cancers. That also increases the strain on the healthcare system," he told the Herald on Sunday.

"Using physical activity and sport to try to address obesity in our young people is something I'm passionate about and focused on."

The dual arrangement meant he could address physical inactivity as a health issue without stepping on another minister's toes.

"You can't start working up ideas in other people's portfolios -- you can suggest ideas at times -- but having health and sport means you can address that and take action."

And the minister plans to lead by example by exercising and eating well.

By Wednesday, Coleman had already played tennis with Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, worked out at the gym and was planning a walk.

"On an average week I'd do four sessions, sometimes five. It'll be a mix of going to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour, it might be a game of tennis, it might be getting on my bike once a week or walking," he said.

"I decided about 12 years ago that I was looking for exercise that is sustainable through life. I'm into my 40s now so I'm not looking to run marathons or push my body to extremes. I'm looking for long-term, sustainable activity."

Coleman said he tried to eat a balanced and varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

"I'm not a fanatic but I've worked over time on reducing the amount I eat, shifting the balance more to leaner foods. I eat healthily but certainly I enjoy having a piece of cake or a beer, just like the next person."

As well as tackling obesity, other priorities included ensuring the health system was financially sustainable in a "constrained funding environment"; making progress on diseases such as diabetes and mental health; and moving more resources into health care provided in the community.

Coleman trained as a doctor and worked for three years in New Zealand hospitals before practising in London for another three years.

By Matthew Theunissen of Herald on Sunday