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Drink Guidelines a First in Child Obesity Battle

25 May 2005

Beverage Guidelines a First in Child Obesity Battle

In a first in New Zealand, a set of guidelines has been designed to help reduce the almost six kilograms of sugar the average kiwi child consumes annually from the beverages they drink.

Formulated for schools, the Beverage Guidelines use a ‘traffic light’ system that indicates the healthiest drinks schools can stock for their students.

Developed by Waitemata District Health Board - and reviewed by The National Heart Foundation of New Zealand - the guidelines are being highlighted today at the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Public Health Conference in Christchurch.

Under the guidelines, beverages classified as ‘green’ represent a healthier choice, offering some nutritional value and containing less kilojoules than ‘amber’ or ‘red’ beverages.

Beverages that fall in to the red category - such as full-fat milk drinks and sweetened fizzy drinks - have limited nutritional value and contribute excess energy.

The guidelines encourage schools to replace ‘red’ beverages with those from the amber or green category.

Waitemata DHB’s Health Gain Manager, Dr Dale Bramley, says that while children obviously consume sugar-laden beverages outside of school, the school environment is a good place to start encouraging a change in habits.

“One in three New Zealand children is overweight or obese and more than a quarter of an average child’s daily sugar intake comes directly from what they drink.

“We have to start making a difference somewhere to reduce the risk of these kids becoming obese, developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease and – ultimately - dying prematurely.”

Waitemata DHB is already working with seven pilot secondary schools in the district to remove sugar carbonated drinks from their canteens and vending machines.

High on the list of factors motivating the schools to become involved were health concerns related to obesity, diabetes and dental decay.

Schools also cited concerns with some students’ hyperactive behaviour after morning tea or lunch breaks when caffeine and sugar had been consumed.

The guidelines come at a time when new research in this country has confirmed that sugary drinks do play a role in promoting weight gain in children.

The new findings, prepared by the Scientific Committee of the Agencies for Nutrition Action, are also being presented today, with a key recommendation being to limit the intake of all high sugar drinks.

The report does acknowledge that sugary drinks alone are not the cause of obesity – a point reinforced by another Waitemata DHB Public Health Physician, Dr Diana North.

“Most of us just walking around the streets are seeing changes in the body shape of our kids – society is now making it extremely difficult for children to grown up healthily.”

Dr North says Waitemata DHB’s Beverage Guidelines are just one part of a comprehensive approach the DHB is taking to tackle New Zealand’s childhood obesity epidemic.

She says physical activity and other nutritional factors are also being addressed with a second project - Wellbeing in Schools programme.

“It is the first project of its kind in New Zealand to combine a nutrition, physical activity and teacher professional development programme in a single package for schools,” she says.

The project brings together the Heart Foundation’s School Food Programme with the Active Mark physical activity programme, delivered by Harbour Sport and Sport Waitakere.

Supporting both is Educating NZ, who assists teachers to successfully implement the Health and Physical Education curriculum.

“It’s building on strengths and pulling together organisations that are very credible and whose programmes have been evaluated so we know they work,” Dr North says.

An initial group of 30 Waitemata schools are currently implementing the Wellbeing in Schools Programme, with plans for a further 30 to come on board in 2006.

Another 14 schools are also set to come on board with the next phase of the beverage guidelines project starting around June this year.


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