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Professor of Nutrition at AUT University, Elaine Rush, is available to comment on the soaring international diabetes numbers.
According to an international study just published by the Lancet medical journal, New Zealand has one of the developed world’s worst diabetes problems – partly due to on our rising levels of obesity.
Professor Rush, Associate Director of AUT University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, is a specialist in the field of body composition, energy expenditure and nutrition amongst different ethnicities in New Zealand. She also leads nutrition research in AUT University’s Pacific Island Families study, one of the largest international longitudinal studies which looks at the developmental health and wellbeing of over 1000 Pacific children and their families.
"Even if we put aside our concerns for the health of today’s children and tomorrow’s – and I don’t think we should – from an economic standpoint, New Zealand cannot afford to ignore obesity,” she says.
“On average in a person’s life they will have seven years of disability. This costs the country money that we don’t have and the increasing incidence of obesity – and related health issues including diabetes and heart disease – means the cost to the country will grow exponentially. Our understanding has increased enormously over what is driving this disease."
Rush says that breaking the cycle of bad health behaviours starts with the right environment.
“There has been a push recently in policy - and in public opinion to some extent - toward the idea of diet and health being wholly about personal choice – the idea that education should be enough to make people make better food and lifestyle choices and to be healthy as a result. This approach ignores the huge environmental factors that are at play. So much of our long-term health is determined before we are even born. Obesity and chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease can have its origin in the nutrition of the mother while pregnant.”
Rush’s research projects are directed towards the prevention of disease across the life cycle. At present in New Zealand she is looking at the best ways to treat gestational diabetes and in Pune, India is assisting with projects looking at maternal nutrition and effects on future health.
“For two people of the same weight and height, there would be much less fat and more muscle in the Pacific individual as compared to an Indian individual yet they have the same risk for diabetes. This has huge implications for the way we screen and look for risk of obesity in different ethnic groups."