Sugar tax needed ‘urgently’
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.