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Nutrition policy favours food industry, study finds
Updated at 8:16 pm on 10 January 2012
A new study suggests efforts to reduce New Zealand's obesity epidemic are being scuppered by governments favouring the food industry over public health when making nutrition policy.
The Otago University study of 313 submission to the Health Select Committee into Obesity and Type 2 diabetes in 2006 found that both Labour and National-led governments gave more backing to food companies.
A research fellow at the University of Otago in Wellington, Gabrielle Jenkin, says the rise in weight-related health problems is costly and means taxpayers are indirectly subsidising the profits of the food industry.
Dr Jenkin says the self-regulation of food industry needs to change if public health groups are to have a fighting chance at improving obesity rates. She says an obesity commissioner should be appointed.
New Zealand ranks third highest in the developed world for obesity, according to the OECD, with nearly two-thirds of adults considered overweight or obese, the study said.
Labour defends record
The Labour Party is defending its record on public health following the release of the study's findings.
Deputy leader Grant Robertson rejects the suggestion that his party sided with food companies, saying it tried to stop the surge in obesity by banning schools from selling junk food and this was later overturned by the National-led Government.
However, Health Minister Tony Ryall says the Government trusts parents and schools to decide what should go in school lunches.
Mr Robertson also rejects the study's recommendation that the food industry needs to be governed by an independent regulator.
"We need to make sure that as much as possible it is done via self-regulation, because that's the way that is most efficient.
"But clearly, the sector is also one that needs regulation from government - and that needs to be looked at from time to time.
"The Labour Party will continue to look at policies that are about regulation and get the balance right."
Mr Robertson says reducing obesity rates is the responsibility of individuals and the Government.