Health Coalition Aotearoa calls on the Government to take action to address issues in the food system

The detailed and comprehensive Public Health Advisory Committee (PHAC) Balancing Our Food System report released by the Ministry of Health today identifies several issues that Health Coalition Aotearoa food and nutrition experts have been calling for action on for many years. 

Health Coalition Aotearoa commends the report for its evidence-based and holistic approach that includes expert advice from consultation from a wide range of leaders in this field. It identifies a range of areas of focus such as children and enabling local communities and draws on exemplars such as Healthy Families New Zealand that can create system change at a local level, but has only been implemented in limited areas across the country.

HCA co-chair Professor Lisa Te Morenga remains frustrated at a lack of action to fix a food system that is not delivering positive health and equity outcomes for New Zealanders. Given the wealth of evidence available through both the PHAC report and the 2023 New Zealand Healthy Food Policy Index (Food-EPI), she is urging the Minister of Health to take this report seriously and respond to the recommendations provided. 

“The report identifies the urgent need for government leadership in the area of obesity and diet-related diseases, fiscal policies to redress the imbalance of healthy versus unhealthy foods and drinks, and marketing restrictions for unhealthy foods to children,” Te Morenga said.

“Healthy diets are essential for wellbeing and many New Zealanders are becoming sick and dying before their time due to inaction by our government. The cost of living, crushing child poverty rates limiting the potential of our nation and the cost of healthy food are all reasons why we have been so in persistent demanding urgent action. We sincerely hope that the Minister of Health will take this report seriously and discuss the findings and recommendations with his colleagues.”

New Zealand faces serious health consequences from unhealthy food, with diet and excess body weight responsible for 18 per cent of premature death and disability.

Our experts are in agreement that fixing the food system will require an all-of-government and all-of-community response. There are however specific policies and initiatives already in place, such as a Health Star Ratings (HSR) system that, if made mandatory, can assist people to make healthy choices. 

Analysis of the HSR system by University of Auckland researchers earlier this month found that although diet-related non-communicable diseases are the biggest preventable cause of death and ill-health in New Zealand, only 30.4  per cent of products carried a HSR in mid-2023, making a mockery of the system. 

“We are calling for clear leadership from the Public Health Agency and the development of a government-sectoral National Food Systems and Nutrition Strategy and a mandatory approach to policy as the previous voluntary approach has been ineffective,” said HCA Food Policy Panel co-chair and co-author of the University of Auckland report and Food-EPI Dr Sally Mackay.

“Making the HSR mandatory, restricting the marketing of unhealthy food to children and ensuring only healthy foods and drinks are provided and sold in schools are actions that will have positive outcomes on the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.” 

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