A just-released report shows that the food industry wants to stay in a business-as-usual mode with a few minor tweaks around the edges. In response, the New Zealand Government appeared comfortable with that approach, and provided no Government plans for comprehensive policy action to tackle the growing obesity epidemic. Health groups are appalled at the Government’s very meek and delayed response to a problem that causing hospitals to burst at the seams.
Food Policy Spokesperson for the Health Coalition Aotearoa, an alliance of health organisations, researchers and professionals, Professor Nick Wilson gave both the industry report and the Government’s response a D-Fail grade, “It is unacceptable that Ministers sat on this report for 11 months only to give a very meek, positive response to what was largely a business-as-usual report. The obesity crisis demands strong action using government-led policies, not vague, voluntary deals with the junk food industry.” He likened it to pouring some sugary syrup onto a food industry waffle.
The Health Coalition analysed the 51 recommendations from the industry’s report and found that 13 contained some positive actions but typically only if they were significantly strengthened, three were not industry commitments and 35 were classified as ‘smoke and mirrors’ recommendations because they were either business as usual, distracting and not relevant, or potentially harmful.
“It was alarming to see how far the junk food industry had already infiltrated into schools and nutrition education claiming that they reached 900,000 people annually,” said Prof Wilson, “and now they want to go and tell Māori and Pacific groups how to eat healthily according to their ideas. Nutrition education, especially for children, is a fundamental government responsibility and there should be no place for the vested interests of the food industry to be involved.”
The Government’s response highlighted four areas of priority for addressing obesity – restricting food marketing to children, reformulation and labelling, creating healthier retail environments, and government-led monitoring and evaluation. While no substantive details were provided in the letter, the Health Coalition supports action in these areas, but said that for these actions to be effective they needed strong government leadership, regulations where possible and proper funding for the monitoring and evaluation.
“These areas of priority action have previously been recommended by expert groups along with other effective strategies like taxing sugary drinks and having mandatory health school food policies.” said Prof Wilson, “The Health Coalition is keen to support Government deliver a comprehensive approach to reducing obesity.”
Industry report here
Government response here
Professor Nick Wilson
University of Otago, Wellington
(021) 2045 523