Women shaken as health investigator with scales in ‘supermarket bag’ asks to weigh children
Two Marlborough women were so baffled by a Department of Health contractor who knocked on their door with a ‘supermarket bag containing a baby scale’, to weigh and measure their children, that they reported the man to the police.
But a department spokesman confirmed the man was a legitimate surveyor for the NZ Health Survey, which measures the prevalence of obesity in adults and children.
Hired by Reach Aotearoa (formerly CBG Health Research) to conduct the interviews for the ministry, the man was usually based in Auckland, but worked temporarily in the Nelson/Marlborough area.
The Department of Health’s Deputy Director General, Evidence, Research and Innovation, Dean Rutherford, explained that the two women – Karen Maxted, from Blenheim, and Wiki Curtis, from Renwick – should have received letters informing them of the investigation and the interviewer’s visit. Households were randomly selected to participate in the survey.
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The letters were sent Oct. 13, Rutherford said.
Curtis confirmed she had received a letter, but she said the interviewer’s name was “Charlotte” and that she “didn’t really think anyone was going to come to my house.”
Maxted said she finally received a letter two days after the interviewer called her home.
Rutherford explained that it was possible, due to delivery delays, for the interviewer to sometimes arrive before the letter.
“Interviewers are trained to ask the household if they received the letter as part of the recruitment process. If not, a copy is produced for the respondent to read,” he said.
The interviewer was “fully trained” and a “very experienced interviewer with Reach Aotearoa”, said Rutherford, who had worked on the New Zealand health survey for the past 11 years.
However, it was “not common practice” for surveyors to carry their equipment in supermarket bags, he said.
“Investigators are given an equipment bag to carry all the items. In this case, the interviewer was not using the bag he received because he had suffered damage to the wheels and [he] is awaiting a replacement. Reach Aotearoa is working with him to find a more professional alternative pending the replacement,” Rutherford said.
But Maxted said “the supermarket bag thing was just weird”.
“I don’t know why someone from the Ministry of Health would have a supermarket bag to carry their things,” she said. She believed the man had ID on a lanyard tucked into his polar fleece, but never asked to see it.
When he asked to ‘weigh and measure’ his young son, Maxted refused, and after he left Maxted ‘freaked out and ran and locked all the doors’, before calling the police.
Curtis explained how she provided the man with the weight and height of her 3-year-old daughter, because she wasn’t home at the time, and he replied, “Well, I I will have to come back when your daughter is home and weigh and measure her”. Curtis said she told him “absolutely not.”
She called the police after the man left.
“I say [the ministry] did a lot of good things, but some of the things they were asking for, I think it was just kind of unnecessary,” Curtis said after Things told him what the man was doing.
Regarding the New Zealand Health Survey itself, Rutherford said it was the official source for measuring the prevalence of obesity in adults and children in New Zealand.
Children ages 2 and older had their height and weight measured, while children ages 5 and older had their waist circumference measured, Rutherford said.
“This information is important to monitor as a healthy body size is recognized as important for good health and well-being. There is strong evidence that obese children and adults are at greater risk of both short-term and long-term health consequences.
The survey normally collected information on more than 13,000 adults and 4,000 children each year.
Dr Ayesha Verrall and Dr Ashley Bloomfield talk to Stuff at the launch of the new public health agency at the Department of Health on July 4.