Obesity and the burden of non-communicable diseases

A recent study of the cost of excess weight in New Zealand finds that the extent of obesity here costs us about $2b a year: The cost of excess weight in NZ | Newsroom It is well worth a read. Obesity is a known driver for a variety of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The disease burden is large and the costs - both direct and in-direct were always going to be large too. To put that $2bn into perspective, it is about 8% of the total health budget. Cutting this figure would substantially reduce the number of early deaths we experience - by hundreds each year. 

We should be interested in how to get from here to there. Our obesity rate at just over 30% is not so far behind the USA at 36% and is significantly larger than the UK's at about 27%. Our goal should be to get down to a level more in line with, say, France, at just over 20%. Given the estimated costs of obesity, that drop could save us $700m a year. It would extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, improving, in turn, the lives of their families and communities. 

But we cannot win this prize by blaming or shaming people who are obese. It does no good. It also fails to address the context of the problem. I spent a substantial part of my life being overweight - people that dared point it out got the cold shoulder. In the end, I decided to change, but it takes a lot of effort to push against the dominant context which is that eating and drinking too many calories is normal. More than anything else that affects our behaviour, it is what people around us do that matters most. That is a complicated project which may take decades. 


AIA report on common preventable non-communicable diseases

AIA NZ has published a report on risk factors that lead to the most common preventable non-communicable diseases that result in death. AIA found that New Zealanders underestimate the impact of non-communicable diseases. AIA uncovered that New Zealanders thought that non-communicable diseases accounted for 10% - 50% of deaths when non-communicable diseases actually cause 90% of deaths.

AIA

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"A new report from AIA NZ has uncovered the five risk factors that lead to the five most common preventable non-communicable diseases which account for more than 90 percent of New Zealand’s deaths.

The findings, rooted in research originally founded by the United Nations, demonstrate how many of the world’s deaths are caused by lifestyle factors that contribute to preventable but deadly diseases.

Coined 5590, the five risk factors of physical inactivity, poor nutrition, smoking, excess alcohol and environment interaction, contribute to five common non-communicable diseases: cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and poor mental health.

The widespread impact of non-communicable diseases

Further local independent research conducted by AIA NZ shows that Kiwis vastly underestimate the impact non-communicable diseases have in the community. Half of Kiwis think non-communicable diseases account for only 10-50% of deaths in New Zealand each year. In reality these diseases account for 90 percent.

Nick Stanhope, AIA NZ Chief Executive, says the case for focusing on health promotion and preventing non-communicable diseases is stronger than ever.

“Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause for preventable death not only in New Zealand but across the globe. In 2019, 74 percent of the world’s total deaths were caused by non-communicable diseases. Furthermore, non-communicable diseases took seven places in the top 10 causes of death,” says Stanhope.

“Covid-19 has been on our minds for the past year, with more than a third of Kiwis thinking Covid-19 was responsible for the most deaths globally in 2020. However, the more insidious threat is non-communicable disease.

“At AIA NZ, we believe it’s our social responsibility to move away from simply being a payer of claims, to partner with Kiwis to live Healthier, Longer, Better lives.”