Figures released this week show that just 1 in 7 Kiwis have a healthy lifestyle. Figure being the key word then?!

Only one in seven New Zealanders – 13.1 percent – have  a healthy lifestyle, says a new compilation of statistics related to the nation’s sustainability.

And though the proportion of Pakeha taking care of themselves with healthy diets and exercise was not too flash at 15.7 percent, the proportion of Maori and Pacific Islanders hitting the same targets was lagging badly around only a third of that level. Where one in six Pakeha has a healthy lifestyle, only one in 16 Maori (6.4 percent) and one in 25 Pacific Islanders (4 percent) engaged in the five “healthy behaviours” used as a measure.

These behaviours – non-smoking, safe drinking, eating adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy weight – have been combined into a measure of a healthy lifestyle in the Statistics New Zealand overview of New Zealand’s social, economic and environmental sustainability. Government Statistician Geoff Bascand said today the five key behaviours mitigated the risk of dying from non-infectious diseases.

Coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and various cancers cause 63 percent of the nation’s deaths. Mr Bascand said 85 indicators were used to illustrate progress over the past two decades in four key areas – how well people live, how fairly resources are distributed, how efficiently resources are used and what New Zealanders are leaving for future generations.

The report was the culmination of two years’ work built on feedback from the original effort six years ago. Though he said the figures showed a general increase in living standards with people likely to live longer without needing daily support, rising incomes, and lower death rates from crime, Mr Bascand noted the higher incomes had not been shared evenly, with a widening gap between high income and low income homes.

There were “mixed results” in terms of the resources left to future generations. “Critical aspects of the natural environment, in the form of water quality, net greenhouse gases and biodiversity appear to be moving away from sustainable development,” he said. The $276,000 report is the nation’s first official set of sustainable development indicators and provides a benchmark for the future, though it was developed in the wake of a study done in 2002.

It is one of the first of a series of country reports to emerge from a recent international consensus on what kind of data should be measured, and how. People put different values on separate aspects of development, but in the long term, development could only be sustainable if economic development was accompanied by healthy ecosystems and well-educated people, and environmental progress needed to be matched by economic health.

Rather than saying whether any critical threshold had been crossed, the report measured movements which gave a basis for setting such targets.

“It is for others to comment on what the statistics we produce mean,” Mr Bascand said. His position is independent of political interference, and the data produced by his statisticians underpins $50 billion worth of decisions on government spending, as well as a lot of decision-making by local government and the private sector.
The main value of today’s report lay in its longterm focus and integrated viewpoint – rather than simply focusing on the environmental cost of household consumption, the report also looked at economic and social benefits, such as the link between rising consumption levels and the standard of living.

The new report relied less than the 2002 study on real gross domestic product (GDP) to provide context – this year the researchers dropped GDP per head, balance of trade in goods and services, and the national current account and international investment positions as indicators of economic activity.

“GDP, while essential, doesn’t tell us about well-being or whether growth is resulting in excessive resource depletion, or how we are investing in our future,” Mr Bascand said.

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