Kiwi obesity campaigner to bow out in frustration

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Dr Robyn Toomath
Dr Robyn Toomath

Related tags Nutrition Obesity

A New Zealand obesity campaigner has admitted defeat after watching the country’s diabetes rate skyrocket.

Diabetes specialist Robyn Toomath began Fight the Obesity Epidemic, which has called for tougher rules on the marketing of junk food to children, in 2001. 

But now, with one in three adults and children suffering from diabetes, she says her crusade has been going nowhere.

"Clearly I've made no progress​,” Dr Toomath told Radio NZ. “There's not a single thing that comes to mind other than the district health boards are going to provide a healthy food environment for their staff​.”

"I mean really, it's pathetic that that's all we can think of​.”

Dr Toomath, who is clinical director of general medicine at Auckland Hospital, told the station that healthy living programmes were aspirational but they were also stigmatising and would not make a difference to the obesity crisis.

"Most people will lose weight for six months, maybe 12 months​,” she said. “But if you look five years out, about 85% people are right back where they were and many of them are much fatter​. 

So all the evidence shows that trying to lose weight by all the methods that are available, short of bariatric surgery is unsuccessful​.”

In spite of a chorus of praise from politicians for her work, Dr Toomath said the release of her book on obesity next year would be her swan song after 14 years of campaigning.

"She has often been the lone voice that was standing up and talking about obesity in New Zealand, the impact it was having, the need to address it, the need to have policy,” said the Labour party’s health spokeswoman, Annette King. 

And she has had to face a lot of critics, but I think she has underestimated the impact she has made​.”

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