Is it something in the water down Dunedin way? The University of Otago seems to produce more than its share of moralistic, finger-wagging academics, especially when it comes to matters of health and nutrition.They have a knack for turning every negative health statistic into an attack on free markets and, by implication, a government that is callously indifferent to the needs of the poor. It doesn’t seem to matter that their statements often fly in the face of logic and common sense.
Today’s Dominion Post reports that poor dental health is the most common cause of avoidable hospital admissions for pre-schoolers in the Wellington region. Pacific Island and Maori children are particularly susceptible, with rates of hospital admission several times higher than other groups.The paper quotes Murray Thomson, Otago’s head of dental public health, as saying: “Kids are being given things in sippy cups and bottles that are neither milk nor water.” Fair enough – but then he goes on to say: “It’s just another marker of poverty, really.”
Hang on. How does that add up? Are Maori and Pacific Island parents forced to give their small children Coke and other high-sugar drinks because they can’t afford water or milk? That seems an absurd conclusion. But it will play well to Prof Thomson’s colleagues because it conforms to the prevailing orthodoxy which holds that everything bad in New Zealand can be attributed to poverty, and that poverty in turn could be eliminated at a stroke if only the government were of a mind to do it (presumably by increasing benefits and the minimum wage, and thereby increasing the burden on the productive sector that must ultimately bear the cost).Thomson may be closer to the mark when he cites lack of education as a cause of poor dental health among children. Perhaps the Maori mother my wife recently observed feeding her baby Coke on a train simply didn’t know that Coke isn’t good for babies. Or was it just that Coke is more convenient than healthier alternatives? (Normally my wife would have said something, but chose not to because the woman was accompanied by tough-looking members of her whanau who might not have appreciated being given advice by a Pakeha.)
Problem is, every time an “expert” like Thomson glibly attributes this type of health issue to "poverty", it removes personal responsibility from the equation – and gives the supposed “victims” licence to carry on, since their behaviour is out of their control. It’s all the fault of the government and the economic system.