Launch of the Health Strategy

  • Trevor Mallard
Sport and Recreation

I'm really pleased to be here today.

When Annette first asked me to take part in this launch, I thought it might be because I am one of the finance Ministers.

I thought that I should admit that Michael Cullen's the one that gives the money out. I'm the Gromyko Minister sent in to tell my colleagues when they can't get money for their initiatives.

But it was explained to me that the reason for including me in today's launch is because one of the strategy's 13 population health objectives is to increase the level of physical activity.

Within that objective, the strategy states that a lack of regular physical activity is a modifiable risk factor for major heart conditions such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension and premature death. At least one-third of New Zealand adults are insufficiently physically active, and lack of physical activity is estimated to account for over 2000 deaths per year. There is good evidence that 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day reduces risk.

Clearly a lot of the other areas such as smoking and nutrition have links with the physical activity objective.

I consider it a big responsibility to be the Minister with two portfolios in which I can help influence New Zealanders to embrace this objective – education as well as sport, fitness and leisure.

I know if children can develop good attitudes towards physical activity when they are at school, there is a greater chance that they will carry those habits and attitudes with them throughout their life.

So I'm pleased that schools are embracing programmes like the Hillary Commission's Sportfit, which includes the aim to increase sport and physical activity among students. Part of that is training students to be sport leaders and able to play a role in coaching and managing sport in their schools. When I launched a five-year strategy for Sportfit earlier this year, the television coverage of the event showed that many young people need a wake up call. The reporter questioned some of the teenagers at the host school on what kind of sporting activity they took part in. A worrying number answered 'none'. Most though, had playstations. One student even said he didn't play any sport because he was too busy working to pay for a cellphone!

It's that kind of attitude that I hope to help change. While there are numerous social benefits in becoming a more active society, today I want to concentrate on the health benefits.

I should make it clear that when I talk of health I mean more than just physical health. We know that participation in physical activity also positively affects people's mental, social wellbeing.

So it makes sense to me to spend a bit of money on increasing participation in sport and fitness so that New Zealanders learn the importance of keeping fit throughout your life. This is certainly an argument that I will bring up during the Budget process round.

With this in mind, I made a particular point of appointing a medical specialist to the team. Cardiologist Mark Simmonds has filled that role.

But of course, there are already a number of ongoing initiatives that support increasing participation in physical activity. I'd like to thank the Hillary Commission for the lead role that they take in this area.

You have no doubt seen the wonderful Push Play promotion which includes television advertising showing that healthy physical activity does not have to involve organised and formal sport or fitness work. I particularly like the image of being taken for a walk along a beach by a pig.

Push Play is about one simple thing – getting New Zealanders to be active for 30 minutes each day. That can make a huge difference to a person's health.

And if you can’t get a 30-minute block in every day, then don’t be afraid to indulge in small, bite-sized snacks of activity each day. The buzz word for that is "Snactivity" and includes taking the stairs instead of the lift, or washing the car by hand instead of at the car wash. Basically, if it gives your heart some exercise, it's good for you.

Annette and I have opened ourselves up to another Commission initiative – the Green Prescription scheme.

The wonder of the Green Prescriptions is that they are extremely cheap, and they do work. So I love them wearing my Associate Finance Minister hat as well.

The regional sports trusts have trained staff providing a free support service and the demand for that service is heavy.

Patient feedback is extremely positive. More than half of the Green Prescription patients become more active. People are losing weight and feeling better.

I'm glad that my green prescription reinforces some of the discipline that I have already introduced to my life. I do try and exercise regularly – mostly gym work and cycling.

But I have to confess that I did slacken off a bit during the first half of this year when the workload of being a new Minister, and filling in for one of my colleagues became quite overwhelming.

In reflection, sacrificing some of the exercise was a mistake and one that I hope I don't make again. And now that I have a green prescription I can wave it around and say: "Doctor's Orders!".