As a government programme aimed at honing the waistlines of chubby children kicks off, leading health experts are questioning whether it will be enough to stem the rising tide of obesity and related illnesses.
The programme under the Government’s Healthy Families NZ initiative is to be launched on Friday , with a consortium of eight iwi in Gisborne the first to lead a charge to steer families into making healthier choices.
It does not target individuals, but focuses on a community approach to healthy eating.
Healthy Families NZ is based on a similar programme much vaunted in Victoria, Australia. Children in Colac, southwest of Melbourne, who had been on the programme, were on average 1kg lighter than those in neighbouring towns. Their waists were on average 3cm smaller and they could also run faster and had lower body mass index scores.
This sounds worthwhile. There are other things Government and local government can do to help, such as making cities more friendly for walking and cycling.
University of Auckland nutrition and global health professor Boyd Swinburn said the programme showed “real promise” but it was not enough on its own.
“I think it’ll be very valuable for some communities and the evidence that we collected in Australia seems to show it will be effective in European klds.
“But also, it needs to work for Maori and Pacific kids and I think there’s no question in my mind they’re going to need other policies like restrictions on junk-food marketing to kids, healthy food policies in schools, taxes on sugary beverages, to be able to get sufficient traction to improve obesity in those groups.”
You would have thought the absolute failure of Denmark’s fax tax would cause the advocates here to stop pushing failed solutions. But, no. We have a culture among public health activists in NZ that policies must be about attacking corporates, and removing choice, and taxing things more (and they want the taxes to be used to fund their own activities).
But the Government has emphatically ruled out such levies on fizzy drink, saying they didn’t work and placed unnecessary financial burden on the most vulnerable.