Media watch

New Zealand media headlines - December 2016

Catch up on the most topical issues in sugars and health making the headlines this month

Media discussions this month largely focus on the work of the NZ Dental Association (NZDA), with its release of a consensus statement on sugary drinks. Endorsed by a number of dental and health organisations, the statement aims to inform the public about the negative health impacts of sugary drinks and to advocate for a comprehensive approach to reduce sugary drink consumption.  The NZDA lists seven key actions needed to reduce harm caused by sugary drink consumption:

  1. Introducing an icon on drinks indicating, in teaspoons, the amount of sugar in each drink;
  2. Independent monitoring and evaluation of food marketing, with an emphasis on marketing that influences children;
  3. Urging the government to adopt WHO limit guidelines on sugar;
  4. Encouraging public to switch to water by;
    a) Introduction of warning labels linking overconsumption of sugary drinks to poor health
    b) Expansion of successful nation-wide social marketing campaigns such as ‘Switch to Water’.
  5. Working with schools and the Ministry of Education to introduce water only’ policies;
  6. Introducing local council 'water only' policies at council facilities and events;
  7. Introduction of a 'sugary drinks' tax in line with WHO recommendations.

Partnering organisations including the NZ Heart Foundation, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and the NZ Dental and Oral Health Therapists publically supported the initiatives in the media, while the NZ Beverage Council (NZBC) claimed little ‘new news’  in the campaign. NZBC reported the beverage industry had already responded to public demand for low and no-sugar drinks, and the focus needed to now look at a person’s total lifestyle.

The consensus statement led to follow-on discussions around three key themes

1. Clarity around sugar labeling on pack

The key call to action from the consensus statement was to introduce icons on pack to depict how many teaspoons of sugar were in each bottle. Rob Beaglehole, spokesperson for NZDA said current sugar labels rely on confusing calculations such as sugar per 100ml or per serve, rather than the total amount in the bottle”, and felt that people would be more familiar with teaspoon measurements. Several marketing experts gave comment on the subject, agreeing that using simple pictures rather than most purchasing decisions are made on impulse due to a range of promotional and advertising factors, rather than on pack labelling. Victoria University’s Janine Williams adds that there may be significant challenges in implementing the initiative effectively to ensure icons are consistent across products and classification systems were uniform given the different types of sugars contained in different foods.

2. Water only policies in schools

NZDA spokesperson, Rob Beaglehole blamed a lack of Government leadership for the slow uptake of water only policies and the NZDA ‘adopt a school’ initiative. Beaglehole is calling for the policy to be made mandatory, similar to tobacco and alcohol, saying “it’s not a radical policy, the vast majority of parents and principals are going to understand this is a pro-active step.’’  Heart Foundation health promotion coordinator Chloe Balderstone said a lack of parent support and appropriate drinking fountains in schools are barriers to adopting the policy.

3. Sugary drinks tax

Green party health spokesperson Julie Anne Genter released a statement supporting NZDA consensus statement and urging health minister Jonathan Coleman to rethink his stance on a sugary drinks tax. Genter critised Coleman for not listening to the growing evidence, nor his Chief science advisor on the subject. Coleman reports he was waiting for the results of two other studies on sugary drinks taxes, one from Waikato University and one from the University of North Carolina before reviewing the possibility of a tax. The Waikato report would not be ready until the end of 2018. 

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