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Tackling diet-related disease in New Zealand

Unhealthy diet is the leading preventable risk for poor health in New Zealand. Diet-related diseases (and how we manage them) is becoming a pressing issue for the country.

Leading New Zealand nutrition experts will be gathering on Tuesday, 4 September in Wellington to present the latest research, and discuss new ideas and approaches to tackling diet-related disease.

The symposium, to be opened by the Minister of Health Hon David Clark, will feature global perspectives, but also uniquely New Zealand views from Māori, research and industry. At the end of the symposium there will be a discussion panel adjudicated by Kim Hill, with a range of perspectives represented.

Professor Jim Mann, Director of the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, says “despite encouraging recent trends, rates of diet-related disease remain high and are major contributors to inequity of health outcomes in New Zealand. There is convincing evidence that dietary changes can profoundly reduce risk but population-based initiatives will be required to facilitate their implementation.”

Co-hosted and organised by researchers from the Universities of Auckland and Otago, and sponsored by Healthier Lives, the symposium will provide research, discussion and recommendations.

“New Zealand has the third highest levels of obesity in the OECD . Our inexorably rising levels of obesity and associated diseases mean we must rethink our approaches to the way we tackle these diseases,” says one of the symposium organisers, Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu from the University of Auckland and Deputy Director of Healthier Lives.

“We will be presenting the latest evidence that is unique to New Zealand and calling on the Government for strong leadership,” she says.

“We urgently need commitment (from the Government and agencies) on new approaches, such as a government-led reformulation programme to reduce salt, sugar and saturated fats in New Zealand packaged and processed foods,” says Professor Ni Mhurchu.

Another of the symposium organisers Professor Boyd Swinburn, from the University of Auckland, notes: “We’ve seen in the past that food industry-led ‘pledges’ simply do not work. Creation of a healthier population food supply requires commitment, strong leadership and legislation by the Government to move this ahead.”

The researchers will also recommend establishing a nationwide healthy food policy for all schools building on the DHB healthy food policy that hospitals across New Zealand are currently adopting.

“Strategies like a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax to reduce consumption of sugary drinks have been shown to work in other countries, are highly cost-effective, and could work well in New Zealand,” says Professor Tony Blakely from the University of Otago, Wellington.

The event is a collaboration between the DIET Programme (NIHI, University of Auckland), INFORMAS (University of Auckland), and the BODE3 Programme (University of Otago, Wellington). DIET, INFORMAS and BODE3 are funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, and the symposium is co-sponsored by the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge.

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