Food body slams academics’ editorial on New Zealand’s obesity policy

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: New zealand, Nutrition, Obesity

The food industry has hit out at claims in a leading journal that New Zealand’s childhood obesity plan was flawed and that the government valued corporate profit over public good. 

The Food and Grocery Council said that an editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal​, which claimed that the government’s strategy did not address excess sugar intake, was “flawed on many fronts​”.

Moreover, the FGC complained that its response to the article, solicited by Fairfax Media, was not run.

Despite FGC responding well within deadline, Fairfax published a story on the report without any of  our rebuttal​,” said Katherine Rich, chief executive of the FGC.

In the article, Gerhard Sundborn, an epidemiologist from the University of Auckland and one of its four co-authors, said that the New Zealand public had become “increasingly vocal in support​” of a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, and frustrated with the “complacent attitude​” of officials tasted with addressing a growing obesity crisis.

The introduction of this tax is an important step toward addressing obesity and will make a strong statement that New Zealand, as a society, values health over corporate profits​,” Dr Sundborn added.

The authors also hit out at the Child Obesity Plan, calling the majority of its 22 initiatives “business as usual” and “unlikely to make a difference​”.

They also complained that though the use of a food labelling system offered promise, the government had adopted the most industry-friendly labelling system.

The current health star labelling system is flawed, because it is voluntary, confusing, and rates many foods with high concentrations of sugar as healthy​,” they wrote.

In her unpublished response, Rich expressed her disappointment that education about good nutrition and physical activity had been dismissed by the authors as solutions to obesity.

Both are vital to healthy lives and preventing obesity and overweight, particularly for children​,” she wrote.

She also pointed to perceived double standards in the article.

Having earlier written that “evidence shows that we cannot educate or exercise our way out of the obesity epidemic​”, the authors went on to say that under a renewed focus that prioritises sugar, “initiatives would be centred [on] communicating risks of a high-sugar diet, highlighting maximum daily intake of sugar, and raising health literacy to enable consumers to calculate sugar content based on back of pack nutrition labels”.

“There’s a lack of consistency with their thinking​,” Rich added.

Related topics: Policy, Oceania, Food safety

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1 comment

Obesity Policy...

Posted by Food4Nutrition Ltd.,

It should not come to a surprise that consumers are loosing trust in the debate on diet and obesity. Overweight/obesity has been and still is treated in absence of evidence-based scentific knowledge of its causes.There seem to be a strong agreement that obesity is related to diet, sedentary lifestyle, to some extent genetic predisposition but this relationship has not produced consistent and quantifiable data among different populations groups/individuals. Additionally, policies on diet-related diseases present confusions between prevention and treatment. Is it too simple to take forward that unless the causes are well known, prevention/treatment would not work?

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