The amount of sugar Kiwis consume on a daily basis is startling and sobering – between 10.5 and 17 teaspoons depending on age and gender.

The effects of this can be seen in our rates of tooth decay and the growing national problem with obesity – in fact, epidemic isn’t too strong a word. According to Ministry of Health statistics, around 31 percent of people aged 15 and over are defined as obese. This rate has been increasing rapidly. Back in 1997, 17 percent of males were obese; now it’s 30 percent. For women, 21 percent were obese in 1996; now it’s 32 percent.

11 percent of Kiwi children (aged 5-14) are defined as obese – up markedly from 8 percent in 2006/07. Alarmingly, children living in this country’s most-deprived areas are 3 times more likely to be obese than children living in the least-deprived areas.

Obesity matters because it is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. And children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults.

The costs of obesity have been estimated in a University of Auckland study at around $800 million – or $8 billion over the next decade. The costs could be even higher as this calculation is based on 2006 figures and rates of obesity have increased since then.

As our article on sugar points out, there’s convincing scientific evidence that over-consumption of sugar is implicated in our rising rates of obesity. The question is what can we do about it?

Some serious efforts at promotion of healthy eating and living must surely be worth trying rather than continuing to pay this enormous bill for dealing with obesity’s medical consequences. An international analysis by the OECD showed that government interventions to prevent obesity could be cost effective.

It will require a multi-faceted approach: promoting healthy eating in schools and the wider community, effective front-of-pack labelling such as traffic lights, a tax on sugary drinks and other sugary food, and dealing with income inequality and the cost of healthy food.

As a nation we can’t allow the costs of obesity to continue.

About the author:

David Naulls is Consumer's deputy CEO and the editor of Consumer magazine.

David works closely with the research and testing team to ensure the quality of all articles published by Consumer NZ. He has previously been a research writer and contract books writer at Consumer. Before returning as Content Editor, he was a freelance writer and editor for 25 years. David has post-graduate qualifications in journalism and political philosophy.