Rates of obesity in Auckland examined Thursday, 4 May 2017

Source: Healthy Auckland Together coalition, 4 May 2017

Auckland's pre-schoolers seem to be keeping weight off in larger numbers, bucking the adult trend, according to the latest research from the Healthy Auckland Together coalition.

The monitoring report on the city's obesity rates shows the percentage of obese and overweight four year olds dropped to 20 per cent from 22 per cent in the previous year.

Almost 80,000 Auckland children were weighed at before school checks in 2015, with the gap in obesity rates closing between Maori, Pacific Island and European/Other children.

This decline has continued for a second consecutive year, even though the report also shows the effects of too much sugar in children's diets, and that many were less physically active.

Coalition spokesperson Dr Michael Hale says looking at what is happening in schools, early childhood education centres and neighbourhoods would help identify why Auckland is seeing this encouraging change.

"We need to find if this trend is a pre-school blip that reverses as children get older," he says.

The research found that fewer 5 - 14 year olds are biking or walking to school than in previous years. "We also know that children are more attached to screens from seven years onwards, and more exposed to bad food around schools. Without the benefit of more in-depth research, we are just speculating on the reasons at this point.

"An update of the 2002 national nutrition survey of children would fill in the gaps. Measuring the quality of school practices around food, physical education and active play would tell us what goes on where children spend a large chunk of their day.

"Something positive is happening for pre-schoolers, but not being able to identify the causes makes it difficult to push for change to achieve the same result for older children," Dr Hale says.

In the last year, the percentage of Aucklanders over 18 who are overweight and obese has risen to over 61 percent or three out of five of residents. Most adults are still not being active enough, or eating the minimum quantities of fruit and vegetables to keep them healthy.

"It is so easy for adults to put on weight, and this is exacerbated by environments that encourage sitting at work, in the car and at leisure, and poor quality snacking and meals out as well.

The research looked at how many people get to work without a car, and while this is climbing, it's off a very low base.

"There's been an additional half a million public transport trips last year and this will get easier, with record levels of investment in walking and cycling infrastructure by New Zealand Transport Authority, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council," Dr Hale says.

The Healthy Auckland Together Monitoring Report findings include

- A continuation of the slow rise in adult obesity to 27.8 percent, matching the ongoing rise in New Zealand obesity prevalence, and mirroring overseas trends

- The 43 percent of all adults meeting the physical activity guidelines hasn't changed over the last year, except for a four percent increase amongst Pacific Island women. Women have lower levels of physical activity than men, and higher rates of obesity, except for Asian women.

- There's been a drop in the number of 5 - 14 years olds getting themselves to school by bike, scooter, skateboard or foot.

- The number of missing, filled or decayed teeth in five years olds remains persistently high, with the highest amongst Pacific Island and then Maori children. This implies a high intake of sugary food and drink.

- The coalition found 39 percent of Aucklanders had a suburb park within five minutes' walk and 80 per cent had similar access to a neighbourhood park. Auckland Council has a new Open Space Provision Policy to improve park access and quality over the next decade.

- There is a continuing year-on-year increase in public transport use to 4.55 trips per person, per month.

Healthy Auckland Together has a five year plan to improve the city's food, urban, school, work and transport environments so these all contribute to Aucklanders' health.