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Otago researchers call for national health food policy

Otago researchers call for national health food policy for schools

Otago researchers are among a group recommending a national health food policy for all schools be adopted, as diet-related diseases become a significant issue for New Zealand.

Professor in Human Nutrition and Medicine at the University of Otago, Jim Mann and Professor Tony Blakely from the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, together with colleagues from the University of Auckland are co-hosting and organising a symposium about diet-related disease in New Zealand which begins in Wellington tomorrow, Tuesday 4 September.

The symposium, ‘Tackling diet-related disease in New Zealand – the need, the evidence, the priorities’ will provide research, discussion and recommendations. The Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, a national research collaboration dedicated to achieving healthier lives for all New Zealanders, sponsors it.

The researchers will recommend establishing a nationwide healthy food policy for all schools, building on the healthy food policy that District Health Boards have adopted and hospitals across New Zealand are currently adopting.

“Strategies like a sugar sweetened beverage 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, Professor Blakely says.

Professor Mann, who is the Director of Healthier Lives, says unhealthy diet is the leading preventable risk for poor health in New Zealand.

“Despite encouraging recent trends, rates of diet-related disease remain high and are major contributors to inequity of health outcomes in New Zealand,” Professor Mann says.

“There is convincing evidence that dietary changes can profoundly reduce risk but population-based initiatives will be required to facilitate their implementation.”

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu from the University of Auckland says New Zealand has the third highest levels of obesity in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Our inexorably rising levels of obesity and associated diseases mean we must rethink our approaches to the way we tackle these diseases,” Professor Ni Mhurchu says.

The researchers 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.”

Another of the symposium organisers, Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland, says food industry-led ‘pledges’ in the past have not worked.

“Creation of a healthier population food supply requires commitment, strong leadership and legislation by the Government to move this ahead,” Professor Swinburn says.

The symposium will be opened by the Minister of Health, Hon David Clark and will feature global perspectives, but also uniquely, New Zealand views from Māori, research and industry. Radio presenter Kim Hill will adjudicate a discussion panel in the final session of the symposium, with a range of perspectives represented.

The event is a collaboration between the BODE3 Programme (University of Otago, Wellington), INFORMAS and the DIET Programme (University of Auckland). The Health Research Council of New Zealand funds all these programmes.

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