Some people will never be satisfied, and the Government’s package to reduce childhood obesity is a perfect example of this.

Over the past few years there have been calls for the Government to formulate a strategy to help tackle what is clearly a growing and concerning problem around the world. And now it has done it, launching a comprehensive piece of work to tackle the issue from its many angles.

But for some it’s not enough that they are doing something. Apparently the Government should “get tough” with the food industry, and there should be things like taxes on sugar, and a compulsory food ratings system. It doesn’t seem to be enough that the package of initiatives means New Zealand is the first country in the world to have an obesity level target as one of its main health measures.

So what are the initiatives and how will they work? The aim is to prevent and manage obesity in people up to 18 years old, and it has three focus areas: targeted interventions for people who are obese, more support for those at risk of becoming obese, and making healthier choices easier for everyone.

Let’s look very briefly at each of these:
The targeted interventions are a new childhood obesity health target that will mean 95% of obese children will be identified in a Before School Check programme, and expanded access to nutrition and physical activity programmes for families.

Increased support includes giving KiwiSport a greater focus on low participation groups; clinical guidance for weight management; guidance for healthy weight gain in pregnancy; recommendations for the screening and diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes (a temporary condition for some pregnant women which can lead to type 2 diabetes); and advice for those at risk.

Making healthier choices easier covers the whole population. Initiatives include a consumer campaign to promote the Health Star Rating scheme; a review of the codes on advertising food to children; working with industry on pledges and changes to labelling and marketing; new nutrition and physical activity advice; an obesity media campaign; a new ‘play.sport’ approach to improve quality and quantity of sport in schools; activity resources for under 5s; professional courses for teachers; review of school curriculum around health, physical activity, and nutrition; healthy schools promotions; eating and activity guidelines for adults.

I’m sure most people will agree that’s a very fair spread of the responsibility we need to be seeing with regard to this issue. It means everyone – government, industry, communities, schools, families, and individuals – is given a part to play in helping get on top of obesity.

I particularly like the early intervention stuff – the new childhood obesity health target which will work as part of the B4 School Check so that by the end of 2017, 95% of those identified as obese will be referred for clinical assessment and family-based nutrition, activity, and lifestyle interventions. As far as the food industry’s part goes, we are ready and willing to work with government to advance the work we have been doing for some years now.

We have made huge gains in recent years in reformulating food to reduce sugar, fat and salt, and there are now healthier choices in every grocery category. As a result, thousands of tonnes of sugar and hundreds of tonnes of salt have been removed from products. Soft drink companies continue to reformulate and offer smaller portions, and consumers are increasing choosing low or zero-calorie options. Further reformulations of both food and beverages are currently tracking through production in order for them to achieve a favourable Health Star Rating, and these will emerge over coming months.

Food companies are involved in a range of school and community programmes to promote healthy living and healthy food. The most significant is support for the Heart Foundation’s Fuelled 4 Life work, while specific inschool programmes provide excellent teacher and student resources aimed at good diets and the importance of physical activity. Other community education and physical activity programmes cover a range of ages and themes.

FGC is also working with member companies and the Government on the Health Star Rating scheme, and members are doing extensive work across product ranges to implement the system and apply the ratings. Companies are active in the Heart Foundation’s Tick programme and our ‘Be Treatwise’ programme for confectionary. These front-of pack labelling schemes are designed to help shoppers make healthy choices.

A number of the major beverage companies (including Frucor, Coca-Cola Amatil) voluntarily agreed in 2009 not to sell energy drinks and sugar-sweetened soft drinks into schools as a means of helping schools take up healthy options, and this continues.

Finally, all FGC members abide by the relevant codes regarding advertising food to children: Children’s Code for Advertising Food 2010, Code for Advertising of Food, Advertising Code of Ethics and Code for Advertising to Children. Of the 800 complaints received each year just nine on children’s food had been received in the past five years.

Obesity is a complex issue and it’s clear that no one initiative will solve it. We need a combined approach, and I believe the Government’s moves will go a long way to achieving it. Industry will continue to play its part in developing healthier options and pushing education for all.

Katherine Rich
CEO, New Zealand Food & Grocery Council