Labour, Greens want tax incentives for healthier eating
Opposition parties are calling for healthy eating policies following the release of a report showing New Zealand has one of the highest rates of diabetes among developed countries.
An international team of researchers, working with the World Health Organisation, found that New Zealand was among the top five nations where blood glucose levels indicated diabetes was the highest.
Labour leader Phil Goff said today the report was further evidence of the need for policies that brought healthy food into the affordability range of all families.
"That's what Labour is doing with its policy on fresh fruit and vegetables," he said, referring to its pledge to remove GST from those products.
"The Auckland University Medical School said very clearly the best way to bring down problems like obsesity and therefore diabetes is to lower the cost of healthy foods."
Labour's health spokesman, Grant Robertson, said the report was "a damning indictment of the Government's health priorities".
"Not only did it drop nutrition and physical activity from its health targets in 2009, but it also slashed funding for the Healthy Eating Healthy Action and the healthy eating in schools programme, and axed funding for the Obesity Action Coalition," he said.
The Green Party said the report "exposes the folly of the Government's refusal to promote healthy eating policies".
Health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said the Government had done nothing to tackle the diabetes epidemic.
"The Government knows poor nutrition is one of the biggest killers of New Zealanders but instead of doing something good about it, they dumped healthy eating programmes," she said.
"Now, we're heading for more unnecessary deaths, escalating health costs and, eventually, massive health budget blow-outs."
Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton said a levy on sugary drinks would help reduce diabetes.
"Without a levy, everyone has to pay more tax to the health system to help pay for diabetes treatment," he said.
"A little prevention is a better alternative than a lot of costly treatment after the damage has been done."
Diabetes New Zealand president Chris Baty said when the report was released yesterday that the Government needed to make diabetes prevention a priority.
Otago University's professor of nutrition and medicine, Jim Mann, said there was no specific public health programme in New Zealand to deal with the obesity problem.
Obesity and diabetes were intrinsically linked and Type 2 diabetes, the most common type, was linked with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said progress on diabetes was one of the Government's six main health targets and it was spending aboput $65 million on keeping children and people active, including KiwiSport, Green Prescription and nutrional programmes.
Mr Ryall said a major review of the Diabetes Get Checked programme has been under way for five months and he was looking forward to the results.
The international study found that Pacific Island nations were the most at risk, with the highest diabetes levels in the world.
The increase in diabetes was highest in North America and comparatively small in Western Europe.
The United States, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain had the highest diabetes and blood glucose levels, while the Netherlands, Austria and France had the lowest.