New champion for Raising Healthy Kids appointed

11 July 2016
Professor Hayden McRobbie
Professor Hayden McRobbie

A new health target comes into force this month: Raising Healthy Kids is designed to see 95% of obese pre-schoolers referred for clinical assessment and family-based interventions.

Professor Hayden McRobbie, a doctor with a PhD in medical psychology, is the new clinical practice champion for the Raising Healthy Kids target and will work with the primary care sector to meet the new target. 

Here he gives his take on childhood obesity in New Zealand and the new health target.  

Around one in nine children under the age of five in New Zealand are obese, with higher rates among Māori and Pacific children.

A healthy body weight is important for good health and mental wellbeing.

Obese children are more likely to be obese in adulthood, are more likely to have abnormal blood pressure and are at increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease as adults. Being an obese child is also associated with social problems which can lead to low self-esteem and depression.

Every parent wants the best for their child, but sometimes making healthy lifestyle changes is difficult. Motivational advice from a health care professional can trigger behaviour change. However, raising the issue of childhood obesity with parents and caregivers can be difficult and there may be a sense that there is little, in the way of help, to offer. While there are no ‘silver bullets’ there are evidence-based approaches that can be offered and this help will be appreciated by families and whānau.

A long-term approach needs to be taken with the goal of helping obese children grow into a healthy weight. This requires comprehensive lifestyle action that involves the child’s family and whānau, and combines healthy eating, increased physical activity, less sedentary activity, and some behavioural support to help cement these changes.

The new health target will help the sector to take a stepwise approach to the management of childhood obesity. First, by identifying children who are obese at an early age, then engaging with the family and whānau and supporting them to make a range of lifestyle changes. Health care professionals should be mindful of the child’s lived reality and work with their family and whānau to find ways to integrate the desired changes into their everyday life.

Programmes, such as the Ministry of Health's Active Families, that provide advice and support to families and whānau to make changes in eating habits and physical activity can have a positive impact, not only for the child but the whole family.

Finally, ongoing follow-up to monitor the desired behavioural changes and provide continued motivational support will help ensure the best chance of success.  I will be working with the health care sector to help implement these steps that will ensure that obese children and their family and whānau receive the right support to make changes to their lifestyle that will have long-lasting benefits to their health and wellbeing.