Media watch

New Zealand media headlines - July 2017

Media discussions focused on sugary drinks this month, with three key themes coming through:

1. Local Government New Zealand has passed a remit proposing a Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Policy

Local councils could be set to ban sugary drinks from council-run facilities and workplaces after Local Government New Zealand passed a remit in a secret ballot by 61% at the national conference held in Auckland in July. This remit asks that all councils should consider the development of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Policy for their respective workplaces and facilities.

Hastings District Council initially proposed the voluntary policy, stating all councils should model good behaviour in their communities, provide an example to other organisations, and reduce sugar consumption among those who use council facilities. As it stands there has been mixed feedback on this policy issue. The Nelson District Council already has its own SSB policy in place. Hastings and six other councils support introducing a policy. Whanganui has stated they are likely to ban SSBs. Whakatane has offered no stance on the matter until it is discussed further at their next council meeting. Matamata-Piako does not support the policy, with Mayor Jan Barnes saying she believes it is taking away the free will of people. Currently there is no set date for when council decisions are due to be made.

2. The second Auckland University Healthy Food Environment Policy Index was published on the 24th July

The Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) evaluates progress by the Government on implementing policies to increase the healthiness of food environments to reduce obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. The 2017 Food-EPI asked a panel of 71 independent and government public health experts to rate the extent to which Government policies on food environments and infrastructure were being implemented, against international best practice.

The 2017 Expert Panel review found that New Zealand scored poorly on 47% of the indicators used to measure the policy changes needed to tackle the obesity epidemic - a slight improvement on the first Food-EPI in 2014 results where 60% did not meet standards. Thus, the Expert Panel made 53 recommendations but identified nine for immediate action.

The top two recommendations were to strengthen the Childhood Obesity Plan through introduction of policies such as a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, and to set targets for reducing the number of overweight or obese children from a third to a quarter by 2025.

Other key recommendations include:
- Increased funding for population nutrition promotion to at least 10% of obesity/overweight health-care cost
- Regulation of unhealthy food marketing to people up to 18 years of age
- Ensuring healthy food in schools and early childhood centres
- Introducing a substantial (e.g. 20%) SSB tax
- Strengthening the Health Star Rating system
- Implementing new Eating and Activity Guidelines
- Conducting a new national nutrition survey for children

3. New ground-breaking obesity study that will breath-test children to determine fructose absorption rates

The study’s objective is to determine a link between fructose intake and the childhood obesity epidemic by measuring hydrogen gas on children’s breath. This is then used as an indicator to tease out fructose absorption rates and what, if any, impact this may have on obesity rates, following much public debate about how sugar is affecting children in NZ.

The research team, led by Professor Peter Shepherd of the Auckland University Maurice Wilkins Centre, will breath-test about 2000 school students in the first year. To date, a small number of Auckland Girls’ Grammar pupils have been tested, and the program will now be expanded to Opotiki initially, followed by the Bay of Plenty and the Far North.

The study is a drive to fully grasp the effects of fructose, which has been commonly labelled as the least understood form of sugar in our diet, in terms of how it impacts our health and any links with metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Professor Shepherd has mentioned however “there's fructose in healthy things like fruit, so it's about having all the information to target the right group…even if we gave up white table sugar we will still be getting fructose in our diet so it's still very important to understand how different people are going to be affected by it”.

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