Call for more restrictions on 'Big Food'
Wed, 20 Jun 2012 11:27a.m.
By Dan Satherley
Health experts are calling on the Government to take a closer look at the influence 'Big Food' has on public health, in much the same way they've done with 'Big Tobacco'.
Editors of science journal PLoS Medicine say "food and beverage companies now have an undeniably influential presence on the global health stage", and there is insufficient regulation surrounding the industry.
"Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease," the editors write, "and yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat."
Beginning this week, PLos Medicine will be publishing a series of articles on Big Food, and how its rise correlates with increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.
The authors argue that marketing strategies employed by food and beverage companies, combined with relentless lobbying and market dominance, have essentially forced people into making bad choices at the supermarket.
"The food industry in NZ dominates nutrition policy," says Dr Gabrielle Jenkin from the Department of Public Health, University of Otago.
"This is why we don't have any Government regulation of junk food advertising (only very weak voluntary codes) and why we still don't have front of pack traffic light labelling."
Dr Jenkin says the focus on "individual responsibility" promoted by TV shows like The Biggest Loser and Embarrassing Fat Bodies has obscured Big Food's role in the obesity epidemic.
"How can two-thirds of the population be suffering from an epidemic of lack of will power and personal irresponsibility?" she asks. "The fact is, it is now abnormal to be a healthy weight."
Prof Elaine Rush from AUT agrees.
"Accessibility and availability of food determine what goes into the mouth. Coca-Cola is one of the most common words in the world and the golden arches of McDonald's are ubiquitous. From early in life children learn to recognise these symbols and also to appreciate the palatability and consistency of the products.
"The problem is that the food is energy dense, nutrient poor and ingredients such as sugar have addictive and toxic properties."
Prof Janet Hoek of the University of Otago's marketing department says corporate social responsibility campaigns such as Coca-Cola's Christmas in the Park need to be restrained, and nutritional information needs to be easier to understand.
"We need to realise that people do not engage in rational or detailed assessments before they purchase food," says Prof Hoek. "They spend a few seconds, at most, assessing the options available to them and, for the most part, nutrition information is hidden in plain view. It is present, but on the back or side of pack, where it has little visual impact, and it appears in a form most people find incomprehensible."
Marion Nestle of New York University and David Stuckler of Cambridge University say any industry attempt to self-regulate is "doomed to fail".
"To promote health, industry would need to make and market healthier foods so as to shift consumption away from highly processed, unhealthy foods," they write in a guest essay for PLoS Medicine. "Yet, such healthier foods are inherently less profitable."
Prof Jim Mann, Director of the Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research, said although Big Food should come under closer scrutiny, the weight of responsibility lay more on the Government.
"There are many things Government could be doing to limit obesity, for example controlling food in schools," he says.
"I would put those issues ahead of being too bothered if the food industry do or do not sponsor some good causes - but people should be aware that the food industry sponsors such causes purely for advertising purposes."
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21/06/2012 8:05:23 a.m.
Wasn't it great to once live in a world where adults didn't need a nanny state to dictate what they could eat and how best to raise their children. Where sugar was considered a main part in any kitchen that preserved fruit or jam and relegated to the role of poison? Why do people eat fast foods? Some for the flavour, but a huge amount consume fast foods because they are available. Now even mince or gravy beef is $14.95 kg and a can of Wattie's sliced peaches just hit $2.20. Fresh produce has sky rocketed and Fonterra has priced milk out of many homes. Maybe the emphasis should be on bringing down food prices (also controlled by big companies just as diabolical as McDonalds or Coca Cola. Additional food labeling like front of pack red light or "Coca Cola can be hazardous to your health if you drink 17 lts." will only add more expensive to already expensive grocery items. And, lastly, I just hope I never live to see the Coca Cola Christmas in the Park be sanitised to Bean Sprouts and Tofu Christmas in the Park.
20/06/2012 9:16:12 p.m.
Obesity - its pretty bad when takeaways are cheaper to live on than buying fresh meat and vege, when we live in a country that produces ample amount of both.
20/06/2012 7:16:12 p.m.
Grant M wrote:
While agreeing that obesity has become a problem in this country, the responsibility rests primarily with the individual. The poor dietary considerations are, I believe, brought about by lack of knowledge. Food technology and food chemistry/dietary truths for humans should be compulsory subjects in schools right through to the end of Year 10 at least. Unfortunately the school syllabus is set by academic, not by people with everyday knowledge of mainstream healthy eating advice. It really comes down not to what we're eating but how often we're eating it. "All things in moderation" is a good starting point. The problem immediately arises: "define 'moderation'". Therein lies the crux of the matter, but with no or minimal nutritional training and an equal lack of ability be able to prepare a home-cooked meal, the situation will continue to worsen. It will take another full generation of NZers before it will even start to improve. This is something that will be led by our learning institutions, not by Government decree.
20/06/2012 12:11:05 p.m.
mr holmes wrote:
look the only thing that matters in this god forsaken world is money and money they beleave is more important than anything in the world to people .it is new Zealand god money is .
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