Just give them bats & balls — problem solved

In their 15th “policy” of the year the Nats announced that they would review Government anti-obesity campaigns and funnel “wasted” money into schools and sports clubs for extra-curricula sports.

John Key points to administration and particularly website expenditure, claiming that “Every dollar we spend in those areas is a dollar we could spend on codes, schools, and clubs that have bats, balls sport facilities and gear ready to ensure more New Zealanders can take part in sport.”

Even the Herald notes that “the announcement is sparse on detail, including how National’s new policy would operate in practice and how much it would cost.”

If you give all this equipment to schools, for example, just who is supposed to organise and supervise any additional activities? Where is the research showing that this much extra equipment is needed? That providing this equipment would create the extra demand for it — in economists’ terms, that Say’s Law applies? (Or is it cargo cult?)

This morning there was an excellent interview with health researcher Rob Quigley (ipod download here). He is the co-author of New Zealand’s first report on nutrition and the family environment, which as far as I could tell has been released today.

Amongst other points he said that there is no evidence to support the idea that it’s just more bats and balls that are needed. In fact, many obese children (Polynesian) already get plenty of exercise. It’s diet that’s the problem, not just exercise.

And the money spent on website development does pay off. Afterall — and the Nats should understand this with their broadband bribe policy and all — that’s where the kids are. On the net. (Another interesting fact(oid?) gleaned from National Radio today is that the median age of the US television viewer is 50.)

There are plenty of successful overseas examples of programmes that could be used here with a little fine-tuning. We should be thinking about banning advertising of junk food to children, simple “traffic light” labelling on children’s foodstuffs, and taxing sugar drinks amongst other things. Not making cheap points with ill-thought out pseudo-policies suggesting that there are easy solutions to complex problems.

Yes, politicians have to be quick to take advantage of a situation. But we can only hope that the Nats are just a little more considered than this when it comes to policy should they be lucky and clever enough to fool kiwis into voting them into government.

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7 Responses to “Just give them bats & balls — problem solved”

  1. MacDoctor Says:

    In fact, many obese children (Polynesian) already get plenty of exercise. It’s diet that’s the problem, not just exercise.

    This is true, although it doesn’t obviate the need for exercise. SPARC, of course does a great deal more than promote sport in schools, including promoting adult exercise with their green prescription. It would take more than extra money for sport in schools to replace their function.

    Diet, unfortunately is very complex and is not nearly as amenable to government intervention as exercise because of this complexity. The largest problems, of course, are the sheer availability and cheapness of junk food and the simple fact that carbohydrates are cheap and protein is costly. These two facts are responsible for most of the obesity in all walks of life, not just amongst the poor.

    Superficially, it would seem that taxing junk food and subsidizing good forms of protein (like eggs) would be the way to go, but I can see immediate problems with “defining” junk food and which proteins are good. Plus there are almost certainly hidden perverse incentives in there somewhere, as with any subsidy scheme.

  2. AndrewE Says:

    Just out of interest JP: Why do you think the government should get involved in the obesity debate? Surely it’s a matter of personal choice what people eat and do in terms of exercise?

  3. truthseekernz Says:

    National’s policy is to do what labour is already doing. In true Crosby / Textor style, they are relying on people not knowing what Labour is ALREADY doing.

    I blogged on it here:

    http://truthseekernz.blogspot.com/2008/07/another-spurious-outrage-sparc.html

  4. truthseekernz Says:

    AndrewE: Obesity is a public health issue. We ALL pay for the additional health care that fat people need. IN choosing what they eat, they give us no choice but to pay for the consequences. Employers also pay for the lower productivity of very fat workers in many jobs as they – generally – tire more easily than leaner people and die much younger.

  5. AndrewE Says:

    Actually I read a study (will go find the link later) earlier this week/late last week that says obese people cost the health system less long term as they die earlier.

  6. jafapete Says:

    Andrew, Yes, I think that they had statistics that showed the same about smoking.

    Why do I think the government should get involved in the obesity debate? For the same reason that I’m glad that it got involved in the smoking debate. As a society we are obliged to look after each other.

    The fact that the incidence of smoking has fallen hugely in recent years makes me very happy. My father’s just been diagnosed with emphysema BTW. Sadly. he grew up at a time when the health effects of smoking were not known, and governments didn’t care.

  7. MacDoctor Says:

    I have read both “studies” that suggested that obese people and smokers cost the health system less because they die early. Aside from the rather appalling ethics involved, the studies were both statistical nonsense. By that argument, stillbirths are o.k. because they are cheap to the health system! You cannot compare life-long health costs of a sixty year old to a ninety year old, they are not comparable. It’s like comparing the overall number of liters of petrol used by a 20 year old car and a five year old one – no matter how bad the fuel consumption of the newer car, it will always have burned less fuel, because its been on the road for 15 years less.

    The only valid comparison is to compare the annual health costs of a healthy 60 year old to a 60 year old smoker and a 60 year old obese person. This data is also much more meaningful in planning current health funding needs.
    Thanks for that. it deserves to be a post on its own.

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