tobacco-style controls on junk food (NZ)
June 4, 2008
Initiatives to try
and stem the sale of tobacco should be applied in a
similar way to unhealthy foods, a health watchdog says.
Responding to a government health survey which showed
continued high levels of obesity in New Zealanders, the
Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) called for increased
access to health foods, along with a crack-down on fast
The survey, A Portrait of Health, showed there was an
increase in the prevalence of obesity in adults from
1997 to 2006/2007, although the increase was slowing.
It showed one in three (36 per cent) adults were now
overweight and a further one in four (27 per cent) were
With children aged two to 14, 68 per cent had a body
mass considered normal, one in five were overweight and
a further one in 12 were obese.
OAC director Leigh Sturgiss said it was positive that
results showed obesity rates were slowing, but there was
a long way to go if the potential burden on the health
system was to be reduced.
Statistics also showed the number of New Zealanders
smoking had fallen to its lowest level since monitoring
of tobacco use began more than 30 years ago.
A record low of 19.9 per cent of the population over the
age of 15 were smokers.
Ms Sturgiss said it was no coincidence that access to,
and promotion of tobacco had been increasingly
restricted over the past 15 years. "We need the same to
happen for unhealthy foods," she said.
"Currently, it's easier and often cheaper to buy high
fat, high salt and high sugar foods, than healthy foods
like fruit or vegetables.
"People should have access to healthy foods regardless
of their income."
Ms Sturgiss said consumers were overwhelmed by
promotions for fast food and sugary drinks, and it was a
big ask to expect programmes that promote healthy eating
to redress the balance.
"There is strong evidence that advertising and marketing
food has an effect on what children prefer, buy and eat.
"Television is the main means of marketing to children
and this report notes that television viewing is
strongly associated with obesity in children."
Some promotions, such as netball awards sponsored by
McDonalds, were shameless targeting of kids," she said.
"Again, we need to take a leaf out of the tobacco
control book and ban advertising and sponsorship of
Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Robyn Toomath
said it was good to see obesity rates levelling off, but
over a quarter of adults were still overweight, compared
to about 10 per cent 30 years ago.
"The impact of the large increase in recent years of
overweight and obese children has yet to hit the health
system so we need to work hard to not only slow, but
reverse the upward trend in obesity," Dr Toomath said.
She said it was worrying to learn how much children
consumed fast food and watched television, which exposed
them to fast food advertising as well as rendering them
Food Industry Group executive director Vicki Hamilton
said self-regulation was the best option in fighting the
obesity problem and that approach appeared to be
Ms Hamilton said recent research showed 94 per cent of
parents agreed they had high levels of information about
the products they bought, and the ability to choose
"healthy" versus "unhealthy" foods.
While children had some influence over their parents'
food selection, there were no indications children were
dominating the purchase decision process or manipulating
parents into inappropriate food choices, she said.
The main concern in the research was that healthy food
be kept affordable to those trying to balance family
Ms Hamilton disagreed with calls to apply a regulatory
tobacco model around certain foods.
"Every cigarette smoked is a danger, but a piece of cake
or ice-cream eaten as part of balanced diet is not," she
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