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New Zealand schools told to follow healthy food rules

New Zealand schools told to follow healthy food rules

New Zealand schools told to follow healthy food rules

Sugary drinks, processed foods are targets of doctors wanting to lower diet-related illness such as obesity.

New Zealand schools should operate under a national health food policy to combat diet-related diseases, nutrition researchers say.

The doctors and scientists favour a tax on sugary drinks and Government-mandated reductions on salt, sugar and saturated fats in packaged and processed foods. They made their call as a symposium about diet-related disease that opened in Wellington on Tuesday.

District health boards have already adopted a similar policy and hospitals across the country are introducing it. “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,” says Professor Tony Blakely, one of the symposium organisers.

The symposium, Tackling diet-related disease in New Zealand – the need, the evidence, the priorities, will provide research, discussion and recommendations, and is hosted by Auckland and Otago universities.

It is sponsored by the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, a national research collaboration dedicated to achieving healthier lives for all New Zealanders.

Professor Jim Mann, Otago University’s professor of human nutrition and medicine, said 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,” he says.

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu from Auckland University said 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,” she says.

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

Professor Boyd Swinburn from Auckland University said 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,” he says.

The symposium features global perspectives, but also uniquely, New Zealand views from Māori, research and industry.

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