Food industry asked to step up fight against obesity

The Government is asking the food industry to step up work to tackle obesity including reducing sugar, fat and salt in their products, better information for consumers, and tighter restrictions on advertising to children.

Health Minister David Clark and Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor have responded to a report by the Food Industry Taskforce which details their proposals for working alongside Government to reduce obesity.

“The Government is serious about tackling obesity which affects about a million New Zealanders and their families, contributing to cancer, diabetes, amputations and heart disease,” David Clark said.

“It’s also a huge burden on our health care services and economy. The most recent estimate suggests it’s costing us about $624m a year. In reality, it’s probably much more than this.

“We can make a big improvement in New Zealanders’ wellbeing by reducing the amount of sugar, fat and salt in our diets.

“The causes of obesity are complex and the problem has been growing for many years. This Government believes we need a wide range of actions from across the public and private sectors and communities to bring obesity under control.

“I have met several times with the food industry and set out the clear expectation that we will work together on this issue. We want to give them the chance to step up and make positive change.

“They’ve made a series of recommendations with a great deal of potential and I acknowledge the work they’ve been doing behind the scenes on this.

“We also plan to formalise our engagement with the food industry on this work. We want to closely monitor their progress on these initiatives which we believe can improve the wellbeing of many New Zealanders.

Damien O’Connor said the joint Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation System supported efforts to reduce obesity.

“As part of the joint Ministerial Food Forum work with Australia, Ministers have asked Food Standards Australia New Zealand to review nutrition labelling for added sugars and to develop a Policy Guideline on food labelling to support consumers to make informed and healthier food choices.

“We’re also currently considering the recommendations of the review of the Health Star Rating system, which helps consumers make healthier packaged food choices through simplified nutritional information.

“Industry is already doing a lot voluntarily, but we need to build on that,” Damien O’Connor said.

Background: 

The food industry is being asked to prioritise progress on their recommendations which align with the World Health Organisation’s recent report “Essential Nutrition Actions: mainstreaming nutrition throughout the life-course”.

They include:

  • Limiting advertising, marketing and sponsorship related to energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages
  • Improving reformulation and labelling of food and beverages
  • Creating healthier retail environments (e.g. limiting product placement and price promotions of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages in supermarkets)
  • Instigating government-led monitoring and evaluation processes.

This work also aligns with the Government’s approach to reducing obesity which includes:

  • The Wellbeing Budget’s $47m Healthy Active Learning initiative
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Free Healthy Lunches in Schools programme
  • The promotion of water only policies across our hospitals and schools.
  • Updating Eating and Activity Guidelines for pregnant women and children aged 0 – two years
  • Investigating energy labelling on alcohol.