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The Public Health Bill contains a wide range of measures to address obesity, including government regulation. Find out more about the Bill, why it is important for obesity prevention and what happens next.

About the Bill

Progress with the Bill to date

  • November 2007: Public Health Bill introduced into Parliament by the Labour-led government
  • December 2007: First reading, and referral of the Bill to the Health Select Committee
  • March/April 2008: Health Select Committee hearings on submissions
  • June 2008: Bill reported back to Parliament by the Health Select Committee
  • December 2008: Bill carried over into the new Parliament and awaits its second reading
  • April 2010: Bill still waiting for its second reading.

Why the Bill is important for obesity prevention

At present, the Public Health Bill provides a legal framework for reducing risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity increases the risk for all three.

The Bill recognises that non-communicable diseases now pose a much larger threat to the health of New Zealanders that do communicable diseases.

The Bill empowers:

  • the Director-General of Health to issue non-binding codes and guidelines to address risk factors for non-communicable diseases (clause 81)
  • the Minister of Health to issue regulations if a code or practice issued by the Director-General failed to result in significant progress (clause 88C).

FOE believes that regulation, or at least the serious threat of regulation, is needed to bring about changes to New Zealand’s food environment. These changes are crucial for obesity prevention and health in general. The food and advertising industries strongly oppose use of regulation for this purpose.

Why regulation-making powers are required

  • we need a comprehensive mix of measures, including regulation, to address obesity and other risk factors for non-communicable diseases
  • voluntary compliance by industry with codes and guidelines will be higher under the threat of regulation
  • regulation allows a faster and more flexible response to new risk factors than reliance on legislation.

FOE’s submission to the Health Select Committee on the Public Health Bill explains more about these points. (PDF)

Regulation has powerful support

  • submissions to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in 2006 heavily favoured use of regulations
  • the New Zealand public firmly favours regulation of food marketing to children
  • the need for regulation has international recognition

‘Nanny-state’ objections to regulation are ill-founded, and ignore the duty of governments to effectively improve public health.

Self-regulation by industry is insufficient

Industry self-regulation often fails to adequately address risk factors for non-communicable diseases.  Two recent New Zealand examples are:

  • in 2006 the advertising industry failed to properly protect children from harmful food advertising when reviewing the voluntary advertising codes
  • in 2008 the television industry failed to protect children from junk food advertising at the times when most children were watching TV.

You can find references to these examples at the bottom of this page.

Industry opposes regulation

The food and advertising industries strongly opposed regulation-making powers in the Public Health Bill.  The case they made in submissions to the Health Select Committee was weak.

Industry submissions used scare tactics. They focussed on hypothetical ways the Bill could be applied, such as banning treats to children. The Bill’s supporters were not seeking such bans.

Another industry argument was that regulations would reduce freedom of choice. An analysis of the submissions showed that public health advocates want regulation-making powers that can be used to make healthy choices easier and more accessible.

The effect would be an environment providing more freedom of choice – not less.

Publications about the Public Health Bill

Public Health Bill as reported by the Health Committee, June 2008
Contains the Bill, suggested amendments, why the Committee included these amendments, and the minority views of the National and Green parties.

Health Committee weakens obesity provisions in Public Health Bill
FOE was disappointed that provisions in the Public Health Bill to address obesity were watered down by the Health Committee.

FOE’s submission on the Public Health Bill (PDF)
FOE’s submission on the Bill explained why it needs regulation-making powers to address obesity.

Freedom of Choice and the Public Health Bill (PDF)
The food industry gave a misleading message about how the health sector wants to address obesity, according to this analysis of submissions on the Public Health Bill.

Food industry tactics on Public Health Bill questioned
FOE says that the Freedom of Choice report shows there is a huge gap between what health people want and the picture being painted by the food industry.

Information sheet on the Public Health Bill. (PDF)
Explains why FOE thought it crucial to make a submission on the Public Health Bill.

Kids TV ad guidelines show self-regulation a failure
FOE explains why the 2008 TV food advertising guidelines won’t provide enough protection for children.

Views on the advertising codes. In: The Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type Two Diabetes in New Zealand: An initial analysis of submissions, March 2007, pages 52-54 (PDF)
While the food and advertising industries supported the revised advertising codes, critics took a very different view.

FOE submission to Health Select Committee Inquiry into Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, April 2006 (PDF)
Appendix 2 has an analysis of changes to the Advertising Standards Authority codes. It shows the new codes fail to properly protect children from harmful food advertising.

Submission on the Review of the Children’s and Food Advertising Codes, April 2005 (PDF)
FOE made a submission on the review of two advertising codes.  Our views were ignored.