New Zealand

Public needs to disapprove as much of obesity as it did of tobacco

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Public needs to disapprove as much of obesity as it did of tobacco

Related tags Nutrition

About one-third of children are now overweight or obese in New Zealand and public pressure is needed to change food and health policies to counter this, according to researchers at in Auckland.

The implementation of a comprehensive package of strong policies at the national level to reduce obesity typically takes time and is particularly difficult when the political climate for it is not optimal​,” said University of Auckland research fellow Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere in a letter published in the New Zealand Medical Journal​ with fellow researchers, Professor Boyd Swinburn and Erica D’Souza.

Pressure for action on reducing obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases has typically been driven by health professionals, rather than the public at grass-roots level, something Vandevijvere places as part of the reason why there has so far been little policy action.

Convert support by verbal demands

While most of the public are highly supportive of various policies to improve the healthiness of food environments, as shown in multiple studies in Australia, it is a quiet support, and strategies, tools and processes are needed to effectively convert that support into vocal demands for increased and stronger actions on food environments​. Government action is more likely with strong, visible public pressure​,” Vandevijvere said

Initiatives should be taken to engage and empower citizens and consumers to generate local actions to improve the healthiness of their community food environments​.”

Local action could potentially be stimulated through encouraging and inspiring citizens to collect data through smartphone applications on the healthiness of their local food environment and could also be feeding the data back to local stakeholders, such as members of parliament, council representatives, local NGO branches, and school and retailer representatives.

An additional feature could be the benchmarking of local communities, schools and retailers according to the healthiness of their food environment​,” she said. “Local, direct feedback to decision-makers and fostering relationships with them is arguably a more powerful way to convert evidence into action for healthier food environments than a national approach only​.”

Power of local data

Citizen engagement and empowerment might also strengthen and create social movements for healthy foods the research found.

Data on food environments, generated for the benefit of New Zealand communities, schools and retailers, could also feed into national monitoring of the healthiness of food environments and reduce the costs associated with it.

While national surveys and statistics have an important role to generate policy action, local data may be even more powerful​,” said Vandevijvere.

Examples from other disciplines include smoking deaths by the electorate, hospital data by district health boards, and road deaths by localities. To get such level of local data, novel data collection methods, such as crowdsourcing, will be needed, and their feasibility and validity tested.

Ultimately, public pressure, in addition to the pressure of health professionals, might accelerate the implementation of strong national policies to reduce childhood obesity in New Zealand​,” Vandevijvere said.

Related topics Policy Oceania Food safety

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