Media watch

New Zealand media headlines - September 2017

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

1. Local initiatives to reduce intake of SSBs
A remit passed by Local Government New Zealand in July asked that all councils consider developing a Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) Policy for their respective workplaces and facilities.

In September, Palmerston North Council voted in favour (8-6) of restricting the sale of SSBs at venues and events run by the council. Contractors selling drinks at council premises will not have to immediately comply but will be asked to remove SSBs from their sales list when contracts come up for negotiation. On the other hand, officials in the Manawatu and Rangitikei councils voted against restricting the sale or supply of SSBs at their facilities or events.

Councillors on the Ashburton District Council were split on the decision to adopt an SSB policy. Now, it appears the Ashburton District Council will consult the community and its staff on a draft SSB policy for council workplaces, facilities and council run events. The proposed policy is designed to support the health of employees, elected members and visitors to council facilities by limiting the sale and provision of SSBs. Alternative drink choices that would be accepted under the draft policy are water, 100% fruit juice, unsweetened milk, artificially sweetened or zero sugar soft drinks, coffee and tea.

2. Children’s health statistics in regional New Zealand
Hawke’s Bay children are experiencing worsening diet-related health statistics. A longitudinal study of data between 1989 and 2000 in 11-12 year olds from this region, found a two-fold increase in unhealthy weight gain and a four-fold increase in obesity over this time. New government statistics have revealed that around 33% of Hawke’s Bay young people are obese, this statistic sitting above the national average of 29%.

Graeme Avery, founder of Hawke’s Bay Regional Sports Park and Community Health Centre, believes in a holistic approach through instilling good habits around healthy eating, cooking and exercise early to help curb these trends.

Data from recent Ministry of Health figures showed 49 per cent of children examined at age 5 in the Lakes District Health Board area had tooth decay. Of those with decay present, each child had on average 4.7 teeth affected by rot. Pip King, Child and Youth Health manager for Lakes DHB, has said ‘the single biggest factor in decay was sugar’. At this time, the Rotorua area does not have fluoridated water.

3. Is brown rice syrup a healthier choice?
Nutritional biochemist Dr Libby, who is regularly profiled in New Zealand media, provided advice to readers on the use of different sweeteners, which received widespread coverage. The article aimed to clarify that the word ‘sugar’ referred to monosaccharides and disaccharides, which could be found in a variety of foods. Dr Libby stated that while brown rice syrup or rice malt syrup differs from the standard table or white sugar in that it doesn’t contain fructose, “it is still a highly concentrated form of sugar that should be used sparingly, like all added sugars”.

In addition, Dr Libby gave some ‘nutritional aside’ advice around the guilt often associated with perceiving foods as ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’, which she stated can be just as damaging to your health as the actual food. Her take home message was that “it’s what you do every day that impacts on health, not what you do occasionally”. 

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