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Obesity trend is harming the environment, global study led by Auckland researcher finds

There is no way to say it politely – New Zealanders are getting fatter.

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NZ health professor Boyd Swinburn led a global study into the issues. Source: 1 NEWS

One in three adults are now considered obese, killing more people than cancer.

And now there is mounting evidence that weight gain is not just bad for our health, but for the planet.

A global report co-chaired by Auckland University Health Professor Boyd Swinburn said the underlying issues causing obesity are the same ones causing climate change.

"If we take food for example, which is a big issue for New Zealand, it's driving 50 per cent of our greenhouse gases," he expained. "It's creating the biggest problem that we have with ill health and premature death."

As the waistlines expand, so do consumer demands, which lead to an increase in food production, transportation and waste. All of which produce emissions.

The report, published in medical science journal The Lancet, argues that climate change and obesity need to be treated together.

"Leaders must take a hard line against powerful commercial interests and rethink global economic incentives within the food system," it states. 

Mr Swinburn believes sustainable food guidelines would be a good first step for New Zealand.

"The cost of damage done to health or to the environment is not incorporated into the food I buy," he said.

"My grandchildren are going to pay for that. They are going to pay for the damage to the environment and the tax payer is going to pay for the damage to my health from the food."

A key recommendation from the report is the formation of a global treaty to limit the political influence of "big food".

Associate Transport and Health Minister Julie Anne Genter agreed climate change and obesity are inexplicably linked, and Government needs a greater focus on prevention.

She told 1 NEWS New Zealand would need a systemic public policy solution to change the current trajectory.

"The big businesses who are profiting from this often try to frame it as though governments are taking away individual choice, when in fact public policy is about protecting people's health and climate," she said.

Mr Swinburn, who worked on the report for three years, believes international food and beverage companies are too focused on maximising short-term profits rather than environmentally friendly activities.

He said it would take a brave politician to stand up to big business, and if taxes and subsidies are well explained then consumers might not bite so hard.