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NZ: FOE media release: New report highlights divisions over obesity prevention

New Report Highlights Divisions Over Obesity Prevention

A new study into strategies for combating obesity has found big business is opposed to the recommendations of New Zealand’s leading health professionals.

The study also reveals how expert medical opinion is being ignored because the government’s current policies are more aligned with the needs of food manufacturers.

The size of the divide between health and industry is clearly evident in a comprehensive report based on months of work analysing hundreds of submissions to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.

The exhaustive analysis was commissioned by Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE) and is now available from the group’s website www.foe.org.nz

Faced with a small mountain of paperwork, a health policy analyst has painstakingly probed 312 submissions. The Inquiry has been looking at New Zealand’s obesity crisis for the past year.

This is the first time the submissions’ recommendations have been reported. The FOE study is the first comprehensive account of what health and industry leaders want the government to do.

Spokesperson Dr Robyn Toomath says the study was carried out to ensure the obesity debate stays alive and that the submissions do not simply gather dust.

She says the analysis shows health professionals and the food and advertising industries are poles apart when it comes to strategies for preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“Industry submissions have a narrow focus on education,” she says. “The manufacturers and advertisers put the onus entirely on individuals to do something about their own weight problems.”

Dr Toomath says those in the health sector argue that education is not enough. They point to smoking as one example of a public health issue where awareness and education simply do not work.

“The health sector is strongly in favour of changes to the environment, so that people can make healthier choices about their food and activities.”

Among the hundreds of submissions is one from former Heart Foundation executive director Professor Boyd Swinburn. Now a leading international expert on obesity prevention, Professor Swinburn has told the inquiry “obesity is NOT a knowledge-deficit problem.”

“Healthy environments make the default choices the healthy ones,” he says.

Industry submissions rely on dodgy data.

The FOE study also shows misleading information is being promoted by the food and advertising industries.

Leading industry submissions – including those from the Food Industry Group and the Association of New Zealand Advertisers – rely on misleading data from a self-interest group, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

According to WFA data, there’s no relationship between obesity and the frequency of television food advertising in 13 countries.

But analysis using more authoritative OECD data tells a very different story. This shows a strong relationship between TV advertising and unhealthy weight.

Key findings from the FOE study:

* The health sector is strongly in favour of Government regulation of junk food advertising. Industry submissions strongly oppose regulation and say the problem can be managed by voluntary actions.

* Health concerns go far beyond advertising. Professor Swinburn told the Inquiry the issue is “all commercial food marketing targeting children.”

* Many submissions call for an end to sponsorship of schools and children’s’ sport by fast food companies like McDonalds.

* Health professionals want to make healthy food cheaper through tax changes or subsidies.

* A ‘traffic light’ system for food labelling is a popular among health professionals, but is opposed by the food industry.

For more information please contact:

Dr Robyn Toomath
FOE spokesperson
0276 839 490

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*Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE) is a voluntary organisation working to stop and reverse the rise of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in children. It is looking to change the social, cultural, physical and regulatory environment so that it is easier for all New Zealanders, especially children, to maintain a healthy body weight.

The Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type Two Diabetes in New Zealand: An initial analysis of submissions, March 2007

Download the report (PDF 513 KB)

Published on March 28, 2007 in FOE media releases,New Zealand news