We don’t have to have a fat, sick future

Well, the election is just a month away, and still the media is not really talking about the real issues that are going to affect us all in the next few years, especially our crisis of obesity and related diseases. Instead they are bogged down in trivia.

It’s a shame, but I still have hope that the people of New Zealand won’t be distracted. Thank you to those of you who’ve posted and sent feedback on our election feature and my blog on the subject of the election. I’m still telling anyone who will listen that it’s really important to talk to our political candidates and make sure they know that we think we need a proper, comprehensive plan to solve our obesity crisis. ‘Personal responsibility’ is not a plan. (It’s part of a plan, but it can’t work on its own.)

When I start to feel frustrated that this is a futile endeavour, I give myself hope by looking at the positive. Overseas, there are some countries taking huge steps forward in starting to solve the obesity problem, which is global.

Ireland recently introduced its ‘Healthy Ireland’ plan – a whole-of-Government approach to helping Irish people become healthier. It’s an impressive plan. Along with education and community support, priorities include a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, front-of-pack nutrition labelling, and restrictions on marketing of food and drinks to children. Ireland and NZ have a lot of parallels – including a similar-sized obesity problem. The Irish Health Minister Dr James Reilly is quoted in the strategy framework saying: “Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.” I couldn’t agree more.

Elsewhere, Brazil recently unveiled new easy to understand, food-based healthy eating guidelines along with a comprehensive policy on healthy food in schools which includes making sure schools source their ingredients from local farms. They also have a complete ban on advertising aimed at kids.

There are other ideas happening all over the world. In South Korea, legislation protects ‘Green Food Zones’ banning the sale of fast foods and soda within 200 metres of schools. Australia and the UK have no sales tax on fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables. Mexico, France, Tonga and Hungary all have taxes on sugary drinks in place, with revenue going towards health programmes.

These are only parts of the picture, of course. What most of these countries have also done as a cornerstone to their plans is to set national targets. Brazil’s, for example, are to halve obesity in kids by 2022; to stop the rise of obesity in adults; to increase fruit and vegetable consumption; and to reduce salt intake.

If policymakers are looking for ideas on where to start in dealing with this crisis, there’s no shortage of them out there. I’d love nothing more than to see us make a plan, set some targets and get on with doing the same here.

First published: Aug 2014

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