New Zealand government is failing to act in 74% of its recommended food policy areas, with “major gaps” identified by researchers.
According to a report from the University of Auckland, the fact that two in three adults and one in three children are overweight or obese in New Zealand suggests that the government’s policies to promote healthy diets is falling short.
Project leader Professor Boyd Swinburn said that high-income countries like New Zealand should be leading the world in progress made to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) but it is still a long way off meeting expectations.
“While there are some strengths, there is also a large number of healthy food policies that still need to be implemented in New Zealand,” said Swinburn, who is also co-chair of the World Obesity Federation’s policy and prevention group.
“Of most concern is the large number of food policies that were rated as having ‘very little, if any, implementation’. This was 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.”
The Auckland publication is the first of a series of what the university calls “Food Environment Performance Index” (Food-EPI) reports, which will score governments around the world on their actions to support and encourage healthy food choices.
Food environments have come under increasing scrutiny in light of the global rise in the burden of non-communicable diseases and obesity. The report’s authors hope their research will put pressure on governments to deliver on the promises they entered into at the UN General Assembly in 2011, and repeated in July 2014, to achieve a series of targets for reducing diet-related diseases including diabetes and obesity by 2025.
Whilst scoring well in some areas, such as regulating ingredients lists and nutrition claims on food packaging, the first report found that the New Zealand government has made very little progress in a number of areas such as restricting the advertising of junk food to children. Also highlighted are slow movement in fast food menu labelling, the use of sales tax or tax exemption to promote healthier choices, protecting health in trade agreements and ensuring availability of healthy foods in retail outlets.
In 2015, governments will be expected to report to the World Health Organisation that they have a fully funded, comprehensive plan to reduce non-communicable diseases, as well as report on progress on reducing the marketing of unhealthy food products and reducing saturated fat in foods as part of the WHO’s NCD Monitoring Framework.