NZ's Obesity Crisis: Health Company CEO Calls On New Government To Take Urgent Action

Published: Fri 6 Nov 2020 05:36 AM
Just Life Group Chief Executive Tony Falkenstein ONZM says New Zealand needs to follow the lead of more than 20 other countries that have introduced some form of tax or levy on goods with high sugar levels.
"We know education doesn't work, we know promises from the Food Industry Council don't work and - despite what the Leader of the Opposition said - self-control doesn't work either. Tackling obesity is one of the biggest opportunities for the new Government."
It's after last month's report from the Ministry of Health showing New Zealand still has the third highest rate of adult obesity among OECD countries - growing at an alarming rate. Every third New Zealand adult is classified as obese, along with one in ten children.
Tony says "A lot of people know obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes - but there are so many other conditions it causes, such as osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and reproductive issues. These illnesses can be devastating for Kiwi families - and place a huge burden on the healthcare system."
Falkenstein, who founded publicly-listed NZX company Just Life Group, has long been passionate about bringing in a better system to combat the country's obesity problem, and points to the success of the UK's sugar levy on soft drinks as a potential model to follow.
In 2016, soft drink manufacturers in the UK were told a levy would be introduced two years later. Beverages with a sugar content of between five and eight grams per 100ml would face a price hike of 18p per litre, while those with more than that would be subjected to a 24p price rise per litre.
£0.24 per litre for drinks with over 8 g sugar per 100 mL (high levy category), £0.18 per litre for drinks with 5 to 8 g sugar per 100 mL (low levy category), and no charge for drinks with less than 5 g sugar per 100 mL (no levy category). Fruit juices and milk-based drinks are exempt. We measured the impact of the SDIL on price, product size, number of soft drinks on the marketplace, and the proportion of drinks over the lower levy threshold of 5 g sugar per 100 mL.
"What was great about this was that it meant soft drink companies had two years notice, which led to 50% of them taking action to cut down on sugar before it kicked in, like Ribena - which managed to HALVE its sugar content. That could easily be done here too - manufacturers just need an incentive."
Money raised from the levy in the UK is being used to tackle child obesity, and Falkenstein recommends the same here.
Falkenstein is calling for the New Zealand government to act, with a levy on ALL products where sugar is added.
"If the government announces they'll bring in a levy at the start of 2023 of - say - 20 cents per litre or kilo for all foods with an added sugar content of 10%, manufacturers will have the time to reformulate their products to avoid it. This isn't about making money or taxing people for the sake of it - it's about incentivising companies to change for a healthier NZ tomorrow."

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