Opposition, experts slam Govt's obesity plan

Opposition, experts slam Govt's obesity plan

Several high profile public health experts have panned the Government's child obesity plan as watery, timid and ineffectual.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman aims to tackle the problem with public information and physical activity programmes and a plan to ensure obese children see a doctor.

He's also working with the food industry on "appropriate marketing and advertising" options, as well as changes to food labelling.

Labour and the Green Party have dismissed the plan as a collection of half-baked policies, a criticism which leading public health specialists are also levelling at Government.

Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland, said he was disappointed the plan bears little resemblance to recommendations made by the World Health Organisation.

Prof Swinburn, a member of FIZZ, which advocates for fizzy drinks to be banned from New Zealand, acknowledged the Government's plan had "a few positive new strategies".

But he said it was a "watery, timid rendition of the ECHO report", a paper produced last month by the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, co-chaired by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's chief science adviser.

Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, an obesity expert at University of Auckland, was also "really very disappointed" the Government had refused to follow ECHOs recommendations.

"The real problem is the obesogenic food environment, for which there are no bold actions in the plan, apart from the removal of sugary drinks in DHBs and hospitals," Dr Vandevijvere said.

These were "a great action" but totally insufficient, she said.

Elaine Rush, Professor of Nutrition at AUT, asked what proof there was that the Government's approach would get results.

"Of the 22 'initiatives', half are guidelines, resources and voluntary regulation!" she said in written feedback.

"Where is the evidence that guidelines work?

"You can tell people to eat their vegetables but they won't unless they are available, affordable and the environment supports this."

Victoria University's Barrie Gordon praised the plan's multifaceted approach but questioned why creating healthy food environments in schools and early childhood education centres was not part of it.

The Green Party's Kevin Hague has criticised the Government for going easy on the junk food industry, while Labour leader Andrew Little said it should have required manufacturers to reduce sugar and saturated fat in processed foods.