Not that long back the New Zealand Herald revealed New Zealand was named the ‘fourth-fattest’ country in the OECD, behind the United States, Mexico and Hungary.
That surprised me (on the one hand) and didn't surprise me (on another).
It surprised me as I have travelled to New Zealand many times in my ministry, particularly with the young writer conferences and the people I meet are young very healthy, good looking, New Zealand specimens of nothing but image material.
Likewise on my mission and holiday tours to New Zealand, I am the first to admit that the New Zealand tourist industry is represented throughout the country (North and South Islands) by very fine strapping men and women without those extra pounds hanging off their waiste.
Likewise in Christian mission and in 2000 with the Australian cricket team as the chaplain, which happened to be my 17th year with the team, again everywhere I went and everywhere I attended, there was an obvious emphasis on good health, fitness and well proportioned sizes of people.
I recall speaking at a Christian men's dinner in Hamilton on that 2000 tour and my start up joke to get their attention (it was one of those rare times when Australia had all the sporting Cups) that I explained how we were all drinking our tea and coffee from “mugs” - of course came my retort, how silly of me, all the Cups are in Australia. But even in that setting I cannot recall a placement of big heavy people.
One year, 2007, we had a Tronson family reunion in New Zealand at Napier. The Tronson's came from everywhere – north and south Island of New Zealand – our family clan of the Australian Tronson “nine” joined them in a Napier cabin park which was fantastic, but again none of the New Zealand Tronson's were big, heavy people.
Where are the big heavy New Zealanders?
This story came from Nelson Cook who founded Coaches of Influence in Los Angeles, a mission to coaches in high schools, colleges and professional situations. Nelson said he and his group had planned a two week mission trip to Samoa in the south pacific for high school students.
They had prepared well for the trip. Done a significant amount of research on the foods they'd be eating, the accommodation they would be living in, the climate, the history and thought they had everything under control.
Nelson tells the story that there were two things they failed to prepare for, one was their research into their sports – they had no idea what was Rugby, how it was played, why it was such a loved sport in Samoa, who were the stars of the gamer and they never even saw not one photograph or video of Samoan rugby.
The story now takes a twist and this is the point of this second aspect of this article. It happened that the Samoan rugby team was on the same flight and were given VIP treatment and loaded onto the aircraft from another section of the LA airport.
So when the LA students had their turn to board the aircraft they were totally unaware that the Samoan rugby team was already on board and when they found their seats, Nelson humorously exclaimed that they each discovered they only had “half a seat” each.
The point of this quite funny story on the nature of culture, is that New Zealand has a huge South Pacific population along with the Maori who are by means short on the tucker, and what we find, culturally, is that huge section of the New Zealand population, including the Rugby players across the board, who are far from thin and streaky designed. They carry quite a punch, as it were.
Does it matter
There are similar fast food chains throughout New Zealand as there are in Australia. There are similar eating habits in Australia as there are in New Zealand. I have been a guest in many a New Zealand home as I have eaten in their restaurants, and anything available in Australia is likewise available in New Zealand.
The marriages between Australians and New Zealanders continue to be very high as is Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his New Zealand born wife Margie. I know many such marriages, even in our own local congregation.
So what might be the difference in the OECD figures showing New Zealanders to be heavier than Australians. Given that my anecdotal examples can be tested and shown to be statistically accurate, I put it down to three things:
New Zealand has a different kind of outdoor activity to Australians. Trekking is a fabulously popular activity – you walk, you put up your tent, you cook and eat, next day walk again. Australians traditionally are active on the sports field, hard duty sweaty activities. I realise it's all marginal.
The daylight hours are slightly different. Australian kids play outside, often until dusk, and always running about. New Zealand has an ever so slightly different emphasis and this is shown in the New Zealand young writers, their English and syntax and flow generates better phraseology. They spend more time in such pursuits.
Another thing I have noticed is that New Zealanders are not afraid to be on the bigger side. It's an aspect of the culture. In Australia there is this never ending promotion of one sort or another about dieting, less rich foods, this and that fad exercise, like a national obsession.
It might also account for New Zealanders being the ninth happiest society in the world (NZ Herald). There are plenty of overweight happy people around and miserable skinny ones! An old minister mentioned to me some years ago now, that after a life time of visiting hospitals, he'd noticed, by and large, skinny people die in hospital. There might be some truth in that but for different reasons.
There may well be scientific analysis available to explain why New Zealanders are larger than Australians, in reality there is some truth in the above. Having been in many New Zealand churches, I have not noticed however, that their pews to be any wider!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at