This, just in yesterday’s news is rather sobering. In 2006, the NZ government asked for submissions for an inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 diabetes.The resulting policy changes (or lack of them) clearly favour the food industry rather than public health submissions.
New Zealand like other countries is experiencing a rapid increase in both. 28% of adults are now obese, up from 18% in 1997. 21% of children are now overweight and 8% are obese. (Source) 142,000 people have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. (NZ Population 4.4 million) This is a 35% increase since 2001 for Type 2 diabetes. The Ministry of Health has estimated that 80,000 people have Type 2 diabetes who have not yet been diagnosed and a further 400,000 people are at risk. (Source)
So the government decided to hold an inquiry with a view to changing policy. However despite a mix of submissions from both food industry and public health groups the resulting policy changes heavily favour the food industry.
Nutrition policy favours food industry – not public health
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
The national nutrition policy formulated by Labour and National-led Governments favours the food industry over public health according to new research from the University of Otago, Wellington.
The new findings result from a study of the 313 submissions to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes held in 2006. This study compared the positions taken by submitters from the food industry and public health groups, such as the National Heart Foundation.
These positions were then compared with the 2007 Labour Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations and the resulting national nutrition policy.
The research focused on 19 recommendations in four areas of nutrition policy: the national obesity strategy; regulation of the food industry; regulation of marketing and advertising; and school environments.
The research found that the Labour Government supported the food industry position in 13 of the 19 recommendations, against 5 where they supported the public health position. Importantly, the Government sided with industry in rejecting key committee recommendations for front-of-pack labelling and restrictions on TV advertising of unhealthy food. Only in the area of school environments did the Labour Government agree with the public health position by requiring schools to sell and promote only healthy foods.
This school nutrition policy was subsequently overturned by the National-led Government, suggesting a strengthening of industry’s influence on our national nutrition policy, says study lead author Dr Gabrielle Jenkin.
“Allowing schools to profit from the sale of unhealthy foods to their students is personally concerning to me as a parent, and should send alarm bells to other parents,” says Dr Jenkin.
She says that the public needs to consider who benefits from the current epidemic in obesity.
“The continuing trend of policy favouring the food industry is dangerous as we’re now the third most obese country in the developed world according to the OECD, with 63% of adults either overweight or obese.”
Like many developed nations such as the USA, New Zealand has a multi-million dollar health problem with increasing type 2 diabetes, directly related to an energy-dense (high fat and high sugar) diet associated with highly processed and fast foods.
International research indicates that many governments support the commercial interests of major industrial sectors like the food industry, over strategies to improve public health. These industries are often large investors and employers, and in New Zealand, central to the economy.
However this does not take into account collateral damage, the huge future health costs for diabetes, and indirect costs due to lost productivity. The study notes that current policy tends to be based on industry self regulation, leaving the responsibility of good nutrition up to the individual, but in an environment which encourages obesity and weight gain (‘obesogenic’).
“It’s obvious this self-regulatory model is a failure. The food industry continues to make large profits on the back of deteriorating public health, with the subsequent burden on the taxpayer to fund the health system. An effective public health strategy to address the obesogenic environment is needed if we are to control the escalating health costs,” says Dr Jenkin.
The study concludes that solutions lie in regulating the food industry, regulating the advertising and marketing industries, and limiting the involvement of the food industry in policy making to ensure fair treatment of public health concerns.
This study has been published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition and was funded by the Health Research Council.
The organisation “Fight the Obesity Epidemic” outlined key areas where the food industry submissions differed from industry submissions. Here are some excerpts:
Health and business ‘poles apart’ on obesity prevention
Submissions from the food and advertising industries (‘Industry’) took opposing positions on obesity prevention to those from a wide range of professionals and groups from the health sector (‘Health’). In particular, industry believes the focus should be on educating consumers to make healthy choices. The health sector believes that this is less important than making changes to the environment that make healthy choices easier.
Issues on which the industry and health sectors differed markedly include:
Changing the obesogenic environment
Health says: Education and information provision have been shown to be ineffective as the primary means of improving public health. Environmental changes to make it easier for people to make healthy choices need to be the central focus for obesity prevention.
Industry says: Obesity prevention should focus on educating people and providing them with information that will enable them to make healthier choices.
Advertising of less healthy food
Health says: The Advertising Standards Authority codes are ineffective, and some form of government regulation of the advertising of less healthy food, particularly to children, is required.
Industry says: Current voluntary measures (the Advertising Standards Authority codes) are working effectively. Further measures are not required.
There is more here, but in a nutshell – industry says “No policy changes are needed” and health groups say that what we are doing is clearly not working and changes need to be implemented in public policy or the health of our nation will continue to get worse.
Not that we can really trust the public health groups either IMO. Diabetes New Zealand continue to push the message that starchy carbs should be included in all meals. (Although they do note starches turn to glucose and may be a problem for some diabetics) and the NZ National Heart Foundation, suggests we replace butter with margarine, and eat a low fat diet, because saturated fat leads to heart disease. Despite reviews into saturated fat showing the connection is weak.
Oh my. What a mess we are in.
And if that isn’t enough we have WeightWatchers getting into bed with MacDonalds in New Zealand, and Fast Food companies increasingly sponsoring sports and charities. (Has any one noticed the player of the day certificates come with a voucher for a free MacDonald’s burger?)