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Signing and launch of Food Industry Accord

Fri, 3 Sep 2004

Signing and launch of Food Industry Accord

Health Minister Annette King launched the Food Industry Accord, saying it was an excellent opportunity for the Government and business to come together in partnership to fight the obesity epidemic.


This is a day I have been awaiting with a great deal of expectation for some time now.

The launch of the Food Industry Accord has the potential to be a red-letter day in terms of New Zealand's health.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in developing the Accord, and thank you particularly to Bruce Wallace for his introductory comments.

I would also like to acknowledge Tony Nowell, chairman of the Food and Grocery Council, and breakfast foods manufacturer Dick Hubbard, both of whom will be speaking shortly and signing the Accord.

The Government has a responsibility to show leadership across the whole spectrum of health issues, but I believe we can obtain the best results in terms of improving the health of New Zealanders when we are able to work in partnership with other groups and organisations.

There will certainly never be a better opportunity in health for the Government and business to come together in partnership than there is in fighting the obesity epidemic.

I want to say right from the start, however, that it is a partnership that must work.

It must work for the sake of the food industry, because if it does not, then I cannot say what attitudes future governments might take toward a self-regulatory model like the Food Industry Accord.

And it must work for the sake of New Zealanders, because the obesity epidemic is killing our people right now, and will kill even more in the future if we don't succeed in doing something about it.

At the very least, this Accord is a great start, and I certainly hope it is a lot more than that. I want to thank the food industry for all the work that has been put into the Accord, and also for your contributions, along with the physical activity industry, to the Healthy Eating-Healthy Action (HEHA) implementation plan that I launched in June.

As you all know, HEHA is designed to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and reduce obesity. If the code is effective, it will certainly fill an essential need because the latest obesity statistics clearly show the epidemic has not yet peaked.

Recently released results from the 2002/03 New Zealand Health Survey indicate that 35 per cent of adult New Zealanders are overweight and a further 21 per cent of adult New Zealanders are obese. The data for children is equally alarming --- 21 per cent of children from five to 14 years are overweight and a further 10 per cent obese.

Diet-related risk factors are now the major cause of death in New Zealand, when classified by risk factor. The effects of diet on risk factors for chronic diseases are estimated to be responsible for about 30 percent of all deaths compared with 18 percent for tobacco and 10 percent for physical inactivity. Quite simply, that cannot continue, and the epidemic cannot be allowed to become worse.

Professor Boyd Swinburn has coined the term "obesogenic environment" to describe the effect modern living has on our body weight with the ready availability of energy dense food and the limited opportunities some people have for physical activity.

The food and related industries provide a key to influencing the obesogenic environment in which New Zealanders live.

For example we know from our children's nutrition survey that both intake of soft drinks and food bought and eaten at school are associated with higher rates of obesity. Likewise, hours watching television are regularly associated with drinking soft drinks, eating confectionery and takeaways, and all of these behaviours are also associated with obesity.

The HEHA implementation plan represents a positive New Zealand response to the World Health Organisation global strategy on diet, physical activity and health that was ratified at the recent World Health Assembly in Geneva, but the Ministry of Health and those involved with developing HEHA acknowledge that the issues of nutrition, physical activity and obesity cannot be addressed by the health sector alone. We need a multi-strategy approach, including social marketing and collaboration between sectors, to address complex issues such as obesity and to slow the epidemic, and that is where I hope this Accord comes in. The HEHA implementation plan can gain strength from the active participation of your industry. I understand that the New Zealand Food Industry Accord is a world first, and I strongly welcome and celebrate that evidence of commitment and leadership from the industry, although it will be very important also to see evidence of positive actions in the short to medium term. This is the chance for the industry to show that it can become a positive influence in promoting better health for New Zealanders, and in providing the environment for that to happen. Legislation can also provide an important framework for general and specific public health objectives, but I am a strong advocate first and foremost for education ahead of prescription. In saying that, however, I am reliant on those who are most opposed to prescription and coercion having the foresight and determination to help make education and promotion work. During the development of the HEHA implementation plan, the food and physical activity industry group met several times to look at specific actions that could be undertaken by industry to assist with the issues.

Among the issues your industry has been considering have been:

· Investigating options to increase the profile of healthy food choices and physical activity in media advertising and promotion · Ensuring the food service industry adopts best practice preparation, cooking and serving techniques consistent with the Ministry's food and nutrition guidelines · Encouraging the food industry to reduce fat, salt, and sugar content of manufactured foods · Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in foods · Promoting industry innovation to provide healthy nutritious choices to consumers at competitive prices · Promoting consumption of vegetables and fruits in a variety of settings --- homes, schools, workplaces, rest homes, marae and community settings · And developing guidelines for use by the media.

As I said, I have always believed that the ideal situation is for all these improvements to occur because the industry sees the good sense in leading from the front with its own initiatives, instead of being coerced or penalised, as some would advocate.

I am sure there are no industry representatives in this room who are so naïve that they expect all New Zealanders to react positively to this Accord. There will be positive reaction, but there will be plenty of cynicism as well, and that is why the industry has got to be able to demonstrate beneficial short-term and medium-term effects from the Accord.

If you cannot do so, future governments will be under enormous pressure to look at other options.

This is, in effect, your industry's best chance to take the high ground on the issue of obesity.

As you know, the Ministry of Health is currently developing proposals for a new Public Health Bill, which will aim to improve population health status and to reduce inequalities in health, and which will explicitly acknowledge the importance of major non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular disease. The Bill is very much at a preliminary stage, but I believe that as well as acknowledging the contribution of determinants of health and a wide range of social, economic, cultural and physical influences on health, the Bill also needs to acknowledge the importance of cross-sector collaboration, including between private and public stakeholders. Quite clearly, there will be those who advocate that the Bill should also include prescriptive provisions, such as the use of regulations, to be considered if other strategies are ineffective in meeting public health objectives.

I repeat, however, that in my view collaborative approaches are vastly preferable to legislative options.

I will look forward to hearing the other speakers today, and I hope to hear more detail of the sort of actions the industry plans to take to meet the Accord's objectives in terms of improving nutrition, increasing physical activity and reducing obesity.

I urge members of the Accord to consider what specific actions they can undertake to help implement the Accord and help slow the epidemic.

I am pleased food marketers, advertisers, communications agencies and the media are involved in the Accord, because with nearly 20 per cent of children watching more than two hours of television a day, and seeing a high proportion of commercials advertising high fat and sugar foods, then the issue of "responsible communication" mentioned in the Accord becomes highly relevant.

I am also eagerly awaiting detailed information about the Accord initiatives being planned with Counties Manakau District Health Board to support the board's Let's Beat Diabetes Campaign.

The Accord document makes the point that the launch today is not an end in itself, but rather a starting point.

I am happy to accept that and look forward to a series of initiatives from the industry.

If this Accord is indeed a first step along a unique path to a healthier future for many thousands of New Zealanders, then let's get on with the signing. Thank you for inviting me today, and I would ask Tony Nowell to become the Accord's first formal signatory.


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