Source: Dominion Post
Health advocates are drawing battle lines against "Big Food",
claiming drastic intervention is needed to stave off a diabetes
crisis in New Zealand.
As adult obesity nears a third of the population, individual
responsibility for diet and exercise is clearly not enough, said Dr
Gabrielle Jenkin, an Otago University of Wellington health academic
who is co-ordinating a seminar today in Wellington.
Government policymakers were reluctant to legislate against "Big
Food" - industry powers such as Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Heinz
Wattie's, fast food chains and Foodstuffs and Progressive
supermarkets, she said. Many so-called nutrition research bodies
were sponsored by Big Food, she said. Dietitians New Zealand, for
instance, stated on its website that it is backed by Unilever and
Jenkin said "tainted" research was presented at select
committees as unbiased fact. "They're corrupting science."
She claimed Big Food was more powerful than Big Tobacco, and
likely to be more aggressive if policy turned against it.
The industry put the onus on individuals to fight obesity, so
governments tended to promote diet and exercise rather than
legislating against unhealthy food, she said.
"We've got a really big problem and we can't stop it. It's not
just 'shock horror, people are a bit fatter'. There are real health
Television shows such as The Biggest Loser, Downsize Me and
Embarrassing Fat Bodies reinforced the personal responsibility
message. "The message is 'Get your big arse off the sofa', rather
than 'Stop the KFC opening across the road'."
However,some governments had stood up to Big Food. In Britain,
manufacturers have been forced to reduce fat, sugar and salt, and
New York's governor attempted to restrict portion sizes and
introduce nutritional information in restaurants.
In New Zealand, politicians remained cowed by Big Food, she
said. In deprived towns and suburbs, fast food outlets were so
numerous as to be unavoidable.
"New Zealand is appalling. You're sniffing KFC wherever you
Public health dietician Julia Rout endorsed Jenkin's policy
"Most people know what they should be eating for good health,
but then they go into an environment where junk food is so easily
available, it's really hard."
Dietitians New Zealand chief executive Petrina Turner-Benny
would not say whether she supported a policy approach to
She acknowledged that representing dietitians working both
independently and for large companies could be "quite fraught".
"We're managing conflict between the two groups."
However, dialogue needed to be maintained. "If we close the
door, then we run the risk of not being able to influence
reformulation of any products."
Industry partners did not pay Dietitians NZ's staff salaries,
she said. Nestle paid $5000 a year towards the body's annual
Retailers Association of New Zealand spokesman Barry Hellberg
said that, as with alcohol and cigarettes, people needed to
moderate their consumption. "I don't think legislation is the
Gabrielle Jenkin's advice to New Zealand's policymakers:
Ban advertising and marketing of unhealthy food.
Improve food labelling, ideally with a "traffic light"
Change planning policy so unhealthy food outlets are unable to
set up near schools.
Outlet numbers should be restricted by population size.
Restrict unhealthy food in public institutions such as
Install more public water fountains.
Make unhealthy food unaffordable, either by taxation or by
subsidising healthy food.
Force "Big Food" to reduce salt, fat and sugar in products.
Restrict portion sizes, as New York tried with soft drink in