Food industry told to do more to fight obesity

The Heart Foundation says the food and beverage industry should step up and tackle obesity.

It follows the release of the Government's Food Industry Taskforce recommendations on how to tackle our dreadful obesity rates - more than 30 percent of Kiwi adults are obese, according to the latest figures.

Heart Foundation food and nutrition manager Dave Munroe says obesity is a huge problem.

"We welcome the Government recommendations and call for stronger food industry action on obesity."

The Heart Foundation says the food industry needs to improve its labels and have stronger advertising regulations. 

"While positive progress has been made in this area, we welcome the Government recommendations."

Health Minister David Clark says obesity is a huge burden on our health care services, costing more than $624 million a year.

"In reality, it's probably much more than this. We can make a big improvement in New Zealanders' wellbeing by reducing the amount of sugar, fat and salt in our diets."

Recommendations in the report include:

  • limiting advertising, marketing and sponsorship related to energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages
  • improving reformulation and labelling of food and beverages
  • creating healthier retail environments (eg. limiting product placement and price promotions of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages in supermarkets)
  • instigating government-led monitoring and evaluation processes.

But for some reason, the taskforce hasn't recommended a sugar tax, which health experts have been pushing for, for years.

"I think that was one lever available for the Government to bring real urgency to this package," Unicef New Zealand executive director Vivien Maidaborn told RNZ.

Studies in places which have implemented a sugar tax - such as Mexico - have found it effective for reducing consumption of high-calorie drinks, but whether it will lead to a drop in obesity rates is yet to be seen.

"The causes of obesity are complex and the problem has been growing for many years," said Dr Clark.

"This Government believes we need a wide range of actions from across the public and private sectors and communities to bring obesity under control."

Munroe says the food industry has already made positive changes - such as removing added salt from many products - but more needs to be done.

"We need improvement in the labelling, rolling out of the health star rating system, we need stronger advertising regulations."

Dr Clark and Food Safety Minister Damien O'Connor say they are considering the recommendations to review the Health Star Rating system.

"Industry is already doing a lot voluntarily, but we need to build on that," said O'Connor.