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Government has a clear mandate to address the cost of healthy food

New Zealanders want to see policies addressing the cost of healthy food with 84% supporting government action according to research from the University of Otago.

The research by the Te Rōpū Rangahau ō Te Kāhui Matepukupuku (Cancer Society Research Collaboration) adds weight to the call for better food policies say Public Health experts in the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre.

Professor Louise Signal from the University of Otago’s Department of Public Health says better diets mean not only healthier and longer lives for New Zealanders, but also downstream benefits such as lower healthcare costs, and higher productivity and education.

“What our research has shown is that government has a mandate from the public, in fact an expectation, that they should address the cost of healthy food. There is also strong support for free healthy lunches in schools, with 73% of New Zealanders expressing support for this policy.”

The research shows just over half support a tax on sugary drinks, but this figure jumped to 64% if the revenue from such a tax was used to support making healthy food more affordable. Notably, only 17% were opposed to this policy. “These policies are supported by evidence and have worked overseas’” says co-author Dr Rana Peniamina. Research shows that a 10% tax results in 10% reduction in consumption. “Sugary drinks taxes are in effect in more than 100 countries and territories impacting 57% of the world’s population, but not in Aotearoa New Zealand.” The UK Conservative Government recently introduced such a tax. The research shows nearly half of those surveyed support banning unhealthy food and drinks sponsorship at sports and community events. Support for a ban on all marketing of unhealthy food and drinks was lower at 43% but still substantially outweighed opposition.

Professor Signal says the government should consider including transformative policies as part of a wider food and nutrition strategy. She says New Zealand needs a cohesive and strategic food policy such as in place in the UK, Australia and Canada.

“The study underscores the public’s expectation of political action on this front. It challenges the misconception that such policies would be unpopular.”

This research was supported by a grant from the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

 

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