Childhood obesity: The challenge of policy development in areas of post-normal science

Sir Peter Gluckman imageSpeaker: Sir Peter Gluckman (Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Co-Chair of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity)

Sir Peter Gluckman discussed both the NZ initiative and the World Health Organisation’s draft report in the light of the complexities arising from different interests and perspectives surrounding obesity.

Public policy implications including the problems of normative versus evidential argument, the complexities of separating advocacy from knowledge brokerage in such situations, the science-policy and science-values interfaces and the implications of the NZ initiative for implementation and evaluation were explored.

Obesity has a complex scientific basis. There are three causal domains of obesity and all are inter-related:

  • Biological determinates
  • Behavioural factors
  • Environmental factors (how people eat, what people buy, how meals are consumed at home and school).

Any solutions to obesity must address all three domains if they are to be successful. There is no magic bullet that will solve the issues of obesity; it must be a package of solutions.


Click the play button to hear the audio from the seminar.

Download Sir Peter Gluckman's speech (pdf 215 kB)

Read the news article from the Dominion Post - 'Kiwi kids face lighter future by 2018' (18 November 2015)


Why does obesity in children matter?
  • Obesity in children leads to pathways of bad health and obesity as adults
  • Obese children are susceptible to emotional disorders, learning difficulties, stigmatism, asthma
  • For biological reasons, some children are more at risk than others
  • Obesity starts at the conception stage, so information to future parents is crucial
  • Obesity is a whole of society issue and children are a gateway to the whole community
  • You can’t ‘blame’ a child for being obese; this strips away much of the disputable ‘blame-focussed and values-ridden’ conversation that is rife on the issue of obesity and allows progression in a clear direction forward.


How is New Zealand supporting this work on the fight against obesity? 

On the 19 October 2015, the New Zealand Health Minister and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman announced the release of a comprehensive plan to reduce childhood obesity addressing the alarming rise in childhood obesity and in the number of children on the pathway to being obese as adults.

This action plan covers the same domains as the WHO report and contains many if not all of their recommendations. This plan could make a valuable difference, if implemented effectively. For success to occur there must be accountability and monitoring.

One initiative is to improve New Zealand’s available nutritional literacy. Target public health information about either preventing or coping with obesity. Ensure that information is accessible, meaningful and understandable to all members of the population.

The issue of obesity is not just a health issue, but affects the whole of society. Those working in health, education and local government all have leadership roles. The public and private sector all have a part to play.


Global fight against Obesity

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General has tasked the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) with producing a significant interim report.

The ‘Interim Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity’ has specified which approaches and combinations of interventions are likely to be most effective in tackling childhood and adolescent obesity in different contexts around the world.

This report is currently out for consultation and the recommendations from it will be delivered to the World Health Assembly.

Supporting Information resources from the World Health Organisation:

Fact sheet on obesity and overweight

Facts and figures on childhood obesity


Superu has also conducted research on the wider economic and social costs of obesity. You can view the research here:


Event date: 
18 November 2015
Event Type: 
Superu events
Last update: 24 Mar 2016