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Overweight and underpaid: New Zealand’s heaviest earn the least

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (New Zealand), January 2012 – April 2014 (n=24,912).
Since November last year, when we reported that almost two-thirds of New Zealand adults were overweight or obese, not a lot has changed. However, with the launch of Roy Morgan Research’s in-depth consumer profiling tool Helix Personas in New Zealand, it is now easier to pinpoint which segments of the population are most prone to weight problems, where they live, how much they earn and how concerned they are about it.

As of April 2014, 63.5% of Kiwi adults were overweight or obese, 34.8% were of an acceptable weight and 1.7% were underweight. When viewed through the filter of Helix Personas, an interesting geographic pattern emerges. Obese people tend to live in poorer areas, while those of an acceptable weight are more likely to be found in more affluent, urban locations.

Often unemployed or subsisting on minimum wages, Doing it Tough and Island Culture individuals (from the Getting By community) are much more likely than the average Kiwi to be obese. Generally renting in working-class Auckland suburbs like Otara, Manurewa and Glen Innes or in Porirua near Wellington, they watch plenty of sport on TV but don’t tend to play it, and enjoy the ease and affordability of fast food. Unsurprisingly, their limited budgets don’t stretch to organic/health food or gym memberships.

Helix Personas most likely to be obese


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (New Zealand), January 2012 – April 2014 (n=24,912). This chart shows the index of each Helix Persona compared to the population average, with 100 being the average.

Obesity is also prevalent among people from the cash-strapped Battlers community, with five personas from this group among the top 10 Helix Personas most likely to be obese — whether it’s Provincial Families, for whom watching TV with their loved ones is a far more appealing prospect than physical exercise, or the aptly named Strugglestreet, whose financial woes worry them more than their weight. As their name suggests, Provincial Families tend to live in small country towns (eg. Kawakawa), while Strugglestreet can be found in regional cities (eg. Kaitaia) and blue-collar fringe suburbs of major cities.

Affluence and acceptable weight

Just over one-third of New Zealand’s adult population falls within the ‘Acceptable Weight’ category. The 10 Helix personas most likely to be an acceptable weight are from the well-off Leading Lifestyles and Metrotech communities.

Typically young, educated and urban, and often hailing from Asia, Social Academics are 65% likelier than the average Kiwi to be an acceptable weight. With many still at uni or in the early stages of their career, they may not earn much yet, but they’re on their way. A health-conscious bunch, they watch what they eat (without obsessing over it) and play plenty of sport. They can be found in university areas such as Wellington Central and Auckland Central.

Helix Personas most likely to be acceptable weight


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (New Zealand), January 2012 – April 2014 (n=24,912). This chart shows the index of each Helix Persona compared to the population average, with 100 being the average.

Also well-represented within the acceptable weight category are inner-city dwellers New School Cool and Young & Platinum. Like Social Academics, both personas tend to be young and upwardly mobile, working hard for their high salaries and letting off steam through sport and socialising.

Meanwhile, Self-made Lifestylers and Humanitarians don’t let family responsibilities and demanding jobs get in the way of their own health, whether it be through formal exercise, personal trainers (they can afford it, after all), and/or a sensible diet. They mainly live in well-heeled suburbs such as St Heliers or trendy Sandringham, where health facilities, parks and healthy dining options are abundant.

Pip Elliott, General Manager, Roy Morgan Research NZ, says:

“The over-representation of personas from the Battlers and Getting By communities among New Zealand’s obese adults is cause for concern. These people can’t afford health food or gym memberships, much less medical treatment for the health conditions that often arise from obesity (diabetes, for example). What’s more, the areas they live in aren’t always well-equipped to provide the services they need.

“In contrast, personas from the more affluent Leading Lifestyles and Metrotech communities tend to fall within the acceptable weight range. Of course, the relative youth of the Metrotech personas would make it easier for them to maintain a healthy weight, but then again, many Battlers and Getting By are also young … and obese.

“But other socioeconomic factors besides wealth and where they live also influence a person’s weight and health: such as education (the wealthier personas are far more likely to be tertiary educated), occupation and ethnicity (the less well-off personas are far more likely to be Maori or Pacific Islander). A tool like Helix Personas has the necessary scope to explore these variables with the accuracy and depth they require.”

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Related research findings

Visit the Helix New Zealand website

About Roy Morgan Research

Roy Morgan Research is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices in each state of Australia, as well as in New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan Research has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

In Australia, Roy Morgan Research is considered to be the authoritative source of information on financial behaviour, readership, voting intentions and consumer confidence. Roy Morgan Research is a specialist in recontact customised surveys which provide invaluable and effective qualitative and quantitative information regarding customers and target markets.

Roy Morgan Research New Zealand

Roy Morgan Research was set up in New Zealand in the 1990s and has been collecting information across a wide range of industries in New Zealand ever since.  Roy Morgan currently has over 10 years of trended data on a geographically and demographically representative sample of over 12,000 New Zealanders aged 14+. 

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate


25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%





















 Thumbnail image: copyright Tony Alter (Flickr Creative Commons)