News article

Experts Highlight Big Gaps In Healthy Food Policies

Posted:  Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Zealand is facing significant numbers of obesity. Almost a quarter of New Zealand’s population is obese. With children suffering from obesity, there is a possibility of increased health complications arising at an early age. These are health complications, not limited to Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers find huge gaps in New Zealand’s healthy. Food policies New Zealand government is failing to act in 74% of recommended food policy areas. Two in three adults and one in three children are overweight or obese in New Zealand. Experts call on New Zealand, and other governments around the world, to implement national action plans to address unhealthy food environments.

Within a significant rate of obese children in New Zealand, policy programs had been introduced to reduce the rate of children with obesity. However, there was very little effect.

Global health expert, Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland, says of major concern was the large number of food policies that were rated as having ‘very little, if any, implementation’.

“These were especially apparent in the areas of reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and using fiscal policies, like taxes on sugary drinks, to influence food choices.” he says.

“There is also no overall plan to improve population nutrition and reduce obesity, yet unhealthy diets are the biggest preventable cause of disease and New Zealand has one of the highest rates of obesity in OECD countries.”

Professor Swinburn says that the top priority is to develop a comprehensive plan to address food and diet to set a target to reduce childhood obesity.

“The Healthy Eating Healthy Action plan was prematurely terminated along with its funding and evaluation in 2010 and there is an urgent need to replace it with a subsequent plan,” he says.

“It will clearly require a much greater government effort than has recently been evident. Priority recommendations from New Zealand’s public health experts are proposed. All of them are achievable with sufficient government commitment,” says Professor Swinburn.

The recommendations to improve the healthiness of food environments are to:

• Implement a comprehensive national action plan
• Set priorities in Statements of Intent and set targets for reducing childhood and adolescent obesity, reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat intake food composition (salt and saturated fat) in key food groups
• Increase funding for population nutrition promotion, doubling it to at least $70m/year
• Reduce the promotion of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents by restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents through broadcast and non-broadcast media ensuring schools and early childhood education and care services are free of commercial promotion of unhealthy foods
• Ensure that food provided in or sold by schools and early childhood education and care (ECE) services meets dietary guidelines
• Implement the Health Star Rating system, making it mandatory in two years if a voluntary approach does not achieve widespread uptake
• Introduce an excise tax of at least 20 per cent on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The implementation of priority policies and infrastructure support assessment showed some areas of strength.

Professor Swinburn says, “New Zealand is also at world standard, along with many other high income countries, in requiring nutrition information panels on packaged foods, having good monitoring systems for NCDs and their risk factors, and having high levels of transparency and access to government information.”