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In recent decades there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in almost all countries, including New Zealand. Of particular concern is the substantial increase in childhood obesity in many countries. New Zealand is no exception.

International trends

Obesity is now so widespread that the World Health Organization regards it as a global epidemic:

  • In 2005, 23% of the world’s adult population were overweight
  • A further 10% were obese
  • A 2011 study found almost 10 percent of men and 14 percent of women worldwide were obese – nearly double the rate of obesity in 1980
  • Globally, an estimated 43 million preschool children (under age 5) were overweight or obese in 2010, a 60 percent increase since 1990
  • These percentages are expected to increase.

Read our definitions of “overweight” and “obese”

Obesity in New Zealand

For New Zealand children aged 2 to 14 years in 2006/07

  • One in five were overweight (20.9%)
  • A further one in twelve were obese (8.3%)
  • The health of three in ten children (29.2%) is at risk because of excessive weight.

Our child obesity rate has increased since 2006/07

  • The child obesity rate increased from 8% in 2006/07 to 10% in 2011/12 (in children aged 2–14 years).
  • In the 15–24 year age group, the obesity rate has increased from 14% to 20% in the past five years.
  • A further 21% of children were overweight (but not obese).

For New Zealand adults in 2006/07 the figures were worse

  • More than one third were overweight (36.3%)
  • More than quarter were obese ( 26.5%)
  • The health of nearly two thirds (62.8%) is at risk because of excessive weight.

Nearly twice as many New Zealand adults were overweight or obese compared to the world average.

For New Zealand adults in 2008/09 the figures were worse again

  • One in three adults were overweight (37.0%) and one in four were obese (27.8%)
  • The prevalence of obesity was 27.7% in males and 27.8% in females.

For New Zealand adults in 2011/12 the figures were even worse

  • 28% of adults were obese in 2011/12 – about one million adults
  • The obesity rate has increased since 2006/07 (26%).

Obesity has been increasing in New Zealand for both adults and children

There has been a rise in obesity in New Zealand adults in recent decades – from 9% (males) and 11% (females) in 1977 to 27.7% and 27.8% respectively in 2008/09.

  • More than twice as many 11 to 12-year-old Hawkes Bay children were overweight or obese in 2000 as in 1989
  • 10% of adults were obese in 1977 compared to 21% in 2007, while levels of overweight remained much the same
  • From 1997 to 2007, obesity among men jumped from 17% to 27.7 %.
  • The obesity rate has increased considerably from 1997, when it was 19% to about 28% in 2011/2012.
  • Obesity rates in 2011/2012 were higher among Māori (44%) and Pacific (62%) adults than other ethnic groups. However, the obesity rates for Māori and Pacific adults have not changed since 2006/07.

No room for complacency

There was little or no growth in overweight and obesity levels in New Zealand between 2002 and 2007. But the 2007 levels are far above those of a generation ago, and need to be greatly reduced.

With 3 in 10 New Zealand children and more than 6 in 10 adults currently at an unhealthy weight, there is no room for complacency.

Obesity figures for both adults and children were released in late 2012, based on the results of the latest New Zealand Health Survey.


International trends

WHO Consultation. Obesity: Preventing and managing the global epidemic. WHO Technical Report Series No. 894. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2000.

Kelly, T., Global burden of obesity in 2005 and projections to 2030. International Journal of Obesity, 2006, 32, 1431-37.

Wang, Y., and Lobstein, T. Worldwide trends in childhood overweight and obesity. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 2005, 1, 11-15.

Finucane, M., National, regional, and global trends in body-mass index since 1980. The Lancet, 2011, Feb, 557 – 567
de Onis M., Blossner M, Borghi E. Global prevalence and trends of overweight and obesity among preschool children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92:1257-64.

Harvard School of Public Health. A global look at rising obesity rates

New Zealand trends

Health of New Zealand Adults 2011/2012 – Key findings of the New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2012

Health of New Zealand Children 2011/2012 – Key findings of the New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2012

A focus on nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2011

A portrait of health: Key results of the 2006/07 New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2008.

Tracking the obesity epidemic: New Zealand 1977-2003. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2004.

Turnbull, A. Changes in body mass index in 11-12-year-old children in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (1989-2000). Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2004, 40(1-2), 33-7.

Definitions of “overweight” or “obese”

Classification of New Zealanders as “overweight” or “obese” follows international best practice. It is based on “body mass index” (BMI) which is obtained from measurements of weight and height.

An adult with a BMI of 25 has reached the threshold where research evidence shows that, on average, damage to health will be occurring as a result of excessive body fat. The higher the BMI, the greater the risk to health.

“Overweight” is defined as having a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9, while “obese” is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more.

Page updated 22 January 2013