Community unites to help improve health of Taranaki children

12 April 2018

Society is failing the health and wellbeing of our children, according to Taranaki-based Paediatrician Dr Yvonne Anderson who is involved in a one-day forum called ‘Taranaki: where healthy children can flourish.’ The fully booked Activity and Nutrition Aotearoa (ANA) regional forum is being held in New Plymouth on Thursday.

“Taranaki is the second most affected region in New Zealand for childhood obesity – almost 20 per cent, or 4,500 children. Nationally, 99,000 children are affected. By the age of five Taranaki children have, on average, 1.6 teeth which are decayed, missing or have a filling. These alarming statistics need to be addressed by a positive, collaborative community-led initiative,” says Dr Anderson, who is also a researcher at the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute.

The ANA regional forum aims to connect people together in addressing the food and physical environment of children and young people in the region, explains Dr Anderson. “What unites all of us is a commitment to achieving the best future for the tamariki and rangatahi of Taranaki. We are all seeking solutions to child health issues and we all need to start having this conversation”.

Taranaki Medical Officer of Health Dr Jonathan Jarman is excited the forum is attracting a diverse group of attendees. “We have a range of delegates including parents, education, health, district council, hospitality and iwi from around the maunga as well as nationally and internationally acclaimed experts from outside the region. The solutions for obesity require collaborative action.  No one agency or community group is going to be able to nail it by themselves.”

Dr Anderson adds “The weight of evidence shows we’re becoming excessive about how often we ‘treat’ our children with food and the portion sizes they receive, and many parents are asking for change. It’s not just one lollipop anymore.”

“Children and young people live in families, and families live in communities. We have many families trying hard to make healthy lifestyle changes, but if the community they live in is obesity-promoting, then the changes they make will not be persistent.”

Taranaki already has a number of successful health and wellbeing initiatives working for families in the community. Examples of these are Taranaki Toa and Whānau Pakari, which have gained national recognition. The ANA organising committee hopes the forum will foster new ideas and improvements.

An emerging consensus among researchers is that a reduction in physical activity, increased access to food and drink with added sugar, issues with food security, and an increase in screen time is leading to unacceptable rates of children affected with obesity, and weight-related health issues. “As a society we need to work to ensure that systems support the healthy choice being the easy choice” says Dr Anderson.

Among those speaking at the event is Professor Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition and global health, and co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Obesity.  The Auckland-based specialist said it was great to see the Taranaki community coming together to improve the food and activity environments for its children. “Such leadership is urgently needed in New Zealand, and Taranaki has many strengths to draw upon for such a collective effort for healthier children.”

Executive Director of ANA, Siobhan Molloy says “The ANA Taranaki regional forum is one of a nationwide series of regional forums that provide professional development, networking and peer to peer learning for the public health nutrition and physical activity workforce.  The forum’s content is designed in collaboration with the sector in the region and each programme and focus reflects the specific region’s needs.”

For more information please contact:

Beth Findlay-Heath
Communications Advisor
Ph 021 665 017


Last updated: Thursday, April 12, 2018

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