“Hi, I’m from Hawke’s Bay. We’re that awesome little lifestyle region on the east coast of New Zealand.”

“It’s where the sun’s always shining, the people are always smiling and where Aucklanders like to come to and sip our fine wines and taste our bounty from the land and sea.

“You know, where great things grow and sadly where great people die too early.”

Yes, unfortunately Hawke’s Bay people die younger than anywhere else in New Zealand. Our life expectancy is 77.7 years for males and 82.3 years for females. The average is 80 years compared to the national average of 80.9 years.

That might not seem to be too much of a difference, but it gets worse – if you’re Maori, life expectancy at birth for males is 71.1 years and 75.6 years for females.

And that’s just one of the dire health and social statistics that we are at – not near – the bottom of. It’s a sad state and one that I’m sure the Hawke’s Bay DHB doesn’t want as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

The Health Equity Report released by the HBDHB revealed that of the 49 indicators examined, Hawke’s Bay is worse than the New Zealand average in 15 areas!

For example, compared to New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay has:

• more people dying at younger ages;

• more people with poor self-rated health;

• more people who have had a diagnosis of one of the common mental disorders;

• more regular smokers – both adults and year 10 students;

• fewer people who are physically active;

• more people drinking hazardously;

• more teenage pregnancy;

• more people who find it hard to get help from a GP when needed;

• more people who see dentists only for emergency dental treatment;

• more people who have been seriously assaulted requiring admission to hospital.

In the executive summary of the report, author Dr Caroline McElnay says “one of the most unexpected finding was that people living in Hawke’s Bay are less physically active than the average person who lives elsewhere in the country, despite all the region has to offer.”

She goes on to say: “I was so surprised at this finding I had the data revalidated. Lack of physical activity links directly into our obesity rates. Two in three Pasifica and one in two Maori are obese in Hawke’s Bay. Obesity increases a person’s risk of dying young; it increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a raft of other related medical conditions.”

Without question, lack of physical activity is having a significant impact on the health and well being of our people.

It’s a very sobering report, released on the day that Sport Hawke’s Bay was celebrating 25 years of providing sport and health programmes to the wider community. We were side swiped by the startling health statistics – that portrayed the region as the unhealthiest in the country.

Sport Hawke’s Bay is a fantastic organisation and has had a tremendous impact on the community. It is one of the leading regional sports trusts in New Zealand and I’m sure that most if not all of the community have benefited by the work our highly capable staff do.

We were all patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, but we must take stock of the DHB report. Because, despite all our efforts, the shocking health statistics prove much more work needs to be done, and sport can be valuable tool in the fight against obesity.

For a difference to be made we must tackle this collectively, and take responsibility as a community.

Although our statistics are worse than other regions, the trends aren’t any different. Immediately after the general election John Key brought attention to the rise in obesity and subsequently appointed Dr Jonathan Coleman to the dual ministry portfolios of Health and Sport.

Presumably there will be much more alignment between the two ministries in an attempt to combat obesity and reduce the anticipated cost reliance on health interventions.

On a local level – what role can Sport Hawke’s Bay play?

The organisation has the knowledge, expertise and connections into the community to make a difference. I have no doubt that sport and recreation can assist in turning around the health indicators.

For many years the organisation has delivered the health programme Green Prescription (GRx), which is a ‘script’ written by health professionals advising a patient to be physically active. It’s usually prescribed by a GP, practice nurse or other health professionals.

However GRx is more of an intervention for those already diagnosed with health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.

Although GRx is a successful programme, it’s unfortunately an intervention programme rather than an initiative to prevent these health problems from occurring in the first place.

That’s where physical activity and sport comes in. By promoting the benefits of sport from a young age, there’s the opportunity to ‘have a go’ and enjoy the many benefits of being active.

As my wife can attest – there’s nothing worse than a grumpy inactive husband. She sees the mental difference in me, when due to an injury, I’m less active.

Obviously diet has a major part to play in our health, and sugar deserves the hammering it gets. In my opinion we need to find a way to curb our growing reliance on it.

During a recent conversation with two fellow fit and healthy 40+ year olds, I raised the poor health stats and we wondered why this has happened. The immediate answer was diet and what all three of us had observed. The likes of service stations and bakeries offering combo deals of pies and energy drinks, children walking (well I suppose that’s exercise!) to school chomping on hot chips and slurping on 2 litre bottles of Coke and Fanta.

A recent news article described a oneman experiment to see what impact sugar would have. The 50-year-old American decided, after getting a clean bill of health from his doctor, to document his health changes after introducing 10 cans of Coca- Cola a day into his diet for a month.

The result – a whopping 10.5 kilograms weight gain and a body fat increase from 9 to 16 percent!

Although this is very much at the extreme end of the scale, I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of children drinking too many fizzy sugar drinks.

When it comes to diet, I believe moderation is the key and coupled with physical activity, then that will go a long way to preventing some of these health issues.

That said, I’m off to walk the dogs!

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