25 May 2015

Taxes to combat obesity urged

9:35 pm on 25 May 2015

A group of New Zealand health experts is urging the Government to introduce a tax on fizzy drinks and adopt other strategies to help combat obesity in Māori children and rangatahi (young people).

obese male

Photo: 123RF

The Healthy Food Environment Policy Index, or Food-EPI, recommended the Government introduce a 20 percent excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and to then use that money to promote healthy diets among tamariki.

It also wanted rules around what food can and cannot be sold in kura and education centres.

The most recent New Zealand Health Survey revealed almost half of Māori adults and two-thirds of Pacific adults were obese between 2011 to 2013.

One of the health experts who supports the new regulations, University of Auckland senior research fellow Stefanie Vandevijvere, said Māori children were also much more likely to be obese than non-Māori.

She said for Māori children between two and 14 years old, the rate was 44 percent, whereas for European-New Zealand children, the rate was 27 percent.

"That's quite a large gap there. We need to think about key strategies to be able to reduce childhood obesity among these groups."

She urged the Government to take the proposals seriously.

"The Government has signalled that it wants to make a genuine effort to reverse New Zealand's unacceptably high rate of childhood obesity, and these three policies really need be a central part of the Government's plans for that to be successful."

She said she hoped the Government takes up the strategies when it announces its plans to tackle child obesity before the end of the year.

Figures

The Food EPI Expert Panel, made up of more than 60 New Zealand public health professionals, medical practitioners and NGO leaders, reviewed the Government's recent actions and rated their implementation and compared them to other countries.

The experts identified three priority policy actions, which include:

  • Reducing the promotion of unhealthy foods to children by restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents through broadcast and non-broadcast media and ensuring schools and early childhood education and care services are free of commercial promotion of unhealthy foods
  • Ensuring that foods provided in or sold by schools and early childhood education and care services meet dietary guidelines
  • Introducing a 20 percent excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and exploring how the tax revenue could be applied to promote healthy diets among kids

According to the most recent New Zealand Health Survey:

  • Almost one-third of New Zealand adults (30%) are obese; a further third (35%) are overweight in 2011-13.
  • Almost two-thirds of Pacific adults and almost half of Māori adults are obese.
  • An estimated 147,000 adults are extremely obese; 6 percent of females and 3 percent of males have a BMI of 40kg/m2 or above.
  • Extreme obesity rates are highest in Pacific adults (11% of males and 21% of females) and Māori adults (7% of males and 12% of females).

In response to the health experts' call for the Government to implement the three policies, the Principal Advisor Public Health, Dr Harriette Carr said in a statement:

"The Ministry of Health believes addressing childhood obesity is an important focus. Work is underway now collecting and reviewing evidence of measures to reduce childhood obesity."

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