Wed. Sep 20th, 2023
    Health Officials Advocate for Sugar and Salt Reductions in Food to Combat Obesity Crisis

    Top health officials are proposing strict measures to address the obesity crisis, such as setting maximum levels for sugar and salt in food, as well as limiting the size of fast food portions. These proposals were revealed in documents obtained through an investigation by RNZ titled “Off the Shelf: The Quiet Struggle to Stop us Eating Ourselves Sick.” One key proposal involves the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) potentially implementing regulatory limits for sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages through case studies conducted with the Trans-Tasman food regulatory system.

    Surprisingly, the Food and Grocery Council (FGC), which represents food manufacturers and suppliers, including multinational companies, expressed support for reductions in sugar and salt, known as reformulation. The FGC believes that gradual reformulation and innovation are effective methods for changing the population’s eating habits.

    The Ministry of Health advises implementing limits on salt in food items, stressing the importance of incremental changes over time in order to ensure consumer acceptance. According to the FGC, drastic changes in taste may result in individuals adding extra salt or sugar to compensate. Therefore, a gentle approach is necessary to encourage sustained uptake of healthier food choices.

    While the government has requested advice on regulatory limits for sugar, salt, and fast food portion sizes, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall stopped short of committing to their implementation. Verrall acknowledges that obesity is a major public health issue but believes that regulation may not always be the most effective solution.

    New Zealand currently has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity and the third-highest rate of adult obesity among developed countries. Voluntary schemes implemented by the food industry have proven to be ineffective, leading to calls for government intervention. The Ministry of Health briefing to ministers highlights the need for stronger action and regulation, as well as the failure of current voluntary reformulation targets to create significant positive changes in the sodium and sugar content of food products.

    The briefing also emphasizes the food inequities faced by certain communities, particularly Māori and Pacific peoples. These communities struggle to access affordable and healthy food options, with a significant number of children living in food-insecure households. Furthermore, they are disproportionately targeted by food and beverage companies, surrounded by unhealthy choices. In the most deprived communities, there are three times as many fast food outlets and convenience stores compared to the least deprived.

    Monitoring of food consumption in New Zealand has been lacking, with no detailed data collected for adults in over a decade and no data for children in two decades. Funding new nutrition surveys was recommended by the 2018 Food Industry Taskforce, but the government failed to follow through. This lack of data is concerning considering the magnitude of the obesity and diabetes challenges faced by the country.

    Despite efforts by the Food Task Force, the government’s response has been limited in addressing obesity. The industry’s 150-page report with 51 recommendations received only a brief three-paragraph acknowledgement from the Minister of Health. The lack of response and action from the government raises concerns among industry stakeholders.

    While the government has taken steps to combat obesity, such as ensuring land for food production and implementing programs like free school lunches that include fruit and vegetables, health officials argue that more needs to be done. They believe that setting regulatory limits on sugar, salt, and fast food portion sizes is necessary to address the obesity crisis effectively.

    – “Off the Shelf: The Quiet Struggle to Stop us Eating Ourselves Sick.” RNZ.
    – Health Minister Ayesha Verrall.