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Doctors call for reversal of food industry self-policing

For immediate use
17 December 2019
Doctors call for urgent reversal of food industry self-policing in battle against obesity

Senior hospital doctors are calling on the Health Minister to urgently reverse a decision which allows the food industry to self-regulate efforts to tackle obesity, saying it runs counter to the government’s Wellbeing Budget.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists overwhelming passed a resolution stating:

the Association abhors the failure of the Minister of Health to regulate the food industry and calls on him to immediately pass regulations that will prevent dental caries and obesity, and their lifelong harm to the health of New Zealanders”.

The resolution was put forward by two former ASMS Presidents, Dr David Galler and Dr Jeff Brown, following deep disappointment over David Clark’s recent decision which will let the food industry self-regulate measures aimed at battling the obesity epidemic.

The doctors say “every day at work we are confronted by the impact of obesity and its complications on individual patients, their families, the communities we serve and on our health system.  At every level it is overwhelming, contributing to an enormous workload for our health professionals and stretched health services whilst incurring massive human and social costs which ultimately limit our potential as a nation”.

According to the Health Coalition Aotearoa New Zealand has the third highest rate of obesity within the OECD which is inextricably linked to unhealthy diets full of ultra-processed food and sugary drinks.

Drs Galler and Brown say there is plenty of evidence that self-regulation has not worked in the past.

“We do not rely on self-regulation when it comes to alcohol, tobacco, road safety and gun control, all of which impact on our health and wellbeing, and are a drain on society’s resources.

On the contrary there is a growing body of evidence that regulation as part of a broader primary prevention strategy is effective in reducing obesity rates and its impact on society”.

They add the government’s approach has taken the health sector by surprise.

“We are still struggling as a result of a decade of underfunding of health services by the previous National government which seemed to have no realistic understanding of the concept of wellbeing and little practical interest in aligning their social policies to promote and create it.

Clearly with the announcement of the Wellbeing Budget this government signalled it was different and did indeed get the issues,” they say.

“For that reason, together with experts in the field, healthcare workers and members of the public, we find the Minister’s recent announcement to rely on the food industry’s self-regulation to address this problem, disappointing and disheartening.  It will threaten the sustainability of our public health service and the wellbeing of future generations”.

The ASMS has written to David Clark urging him to reverse his decision, to consult with experts in the field and to incorporate regulation with an initial focus to protect children from predatory advertising, as part of a broader primary prevention strategy to reduce obesity rates and its impact on society.

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