Sugar tax needed ‘ur­gently’

East and Bays Courier - - OUT & ABOUT - STAFF RE­PORTER

A sub­stan­tial su­gary drinks tax and in­creased reg­u­la­tion of the mar­ket­ing of un­healthy foods to chil­dren are ur­gently needed if child­hood obe­sity is to be re­duced, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

An ex­pert panel has called on the Gov­ern­ment to im­prove its child­hood obe­sity plan to at least match Aus­tralian statis­tics by 2025.

The find­ings were pub­lished in the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s Healthy Food En­vi­ron­ment Pol­icy In­dex on Mon­day.

New Zealand adults and chil­dren have the third-high­est rate of over­weight and obe­sity within OECD coun­tries.

Nutri­tion ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Boyd Swin­burn said the re­lated costs were prob­a­bly close to a bil­lion dol­lars a year.

Swin­burn said while progress had been made in some ar­eas since 2014, New Zealand was still in the grips of an obe­sity cri­sis.

Progress to im­prove chil­dren’s health re­mained very slow, he said.

‘‘Many large im­ple­men­ta­tion gaps were iden­ti­fied by the ex­perts, in­clud­ing for poli­cies rec­om­mended by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion such as healthy food in schools, fis­cal poli­cies and mar­ket­ing re­stric­tions for un­healthy foods,’’ Swin­burn said.

He said the gov­ern­ment was be­ing urged to act to im­prove di­ets and re­duce the health care costs of obe­sity and un­healthy di­ets.

‘‘The ex­perts rec­om­mended that about 10 per cent of these costs should be spent on pre­ven­tion which would mean at least a dou­bling of cur­rent in­vest­ment in nutri­tion pro­mo­tion.’’ The re­port was first pub­lished in 2014. The up­dated study was con­ducted this year by a panel of 71 in­de­pen­dent and gov­ern­ment public health ex­perts.

They rated the ex­tent of im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies by the gov­ern­ment against in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice.

The panel have pri­ori­tised ar­eas which need im­me­di­ate ac­tion from the gov­ern­ment to con­trib­ute to a re­duc­tion in obe­sity and diet-re­lated diseases.

While some strengths were iden­ti­fied, a large num­ber of healthy food poli­cies still needed to be im­ple­mented in New Zealand.

‘‘Bring­ing New Zealand’s rate of child­hood over­weight and obe­sity down from one in three to one in four by 2025 was con­sid­ered achiev­able by the panel be­cause one in four was the cur­rent rate in Aus­tralia.’’ Swin­burn said.

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