Today the Government is making a the meal out of the launch of its ‘Healthy Families’ package to promote ‘healthier decisions’ and ‘changing mindsets’ over nutrition, physical activity and obesity. Great! The programme is based on a successful model from Australia, using both education and community and local government involvement.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health also quietly launched this report on excess bodyweight in New Zealand yesterday which says; “The potential reasons for the recent increase in obesity are complex, but are largely attributed to the increasingly obesogenic environment in which we live (Swinburn 2008). The last three decades have seen a much greater availability and promotion of cheap, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, together with a reduction in physical activity levels.”
6 years ago, New Zealand had something akin to a comprehensive programme to tackle education, food in schools, physical activity in the community and changing food environments. It was called HEHA (Healthy Eating Healthy Action) and this National Government scrapped it. That’s six years wasted to come full circle to public health measures that focus back on communities and prevention, not just ‘choices’ and ‘mindsets’
The strong evidence is that obesity rates aren’t about individual choices but about food environments; what is available around you, what is cheap, what is in-your-face at bus-stop advertising. Until the Government has the guts to actually change the food landscape, by putting a proper price on sugar and restricting harmful marketing, good programmes like ‘Healthy Families’ will be undermined by cheap plentiful junk food. Minister Coleman, we’re ready when you are.