Government should regulate unhealthy products

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 10:23 16/02/2013

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Governments should regulate multinational companies that push tobacco, alcohol and highly processed food, to protect their citizens from preventable diseases, researchers say.

Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes are now the largest global health threat, and multinational companies selling unhealthy commodities are being blamed.

Cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory diseases are the country's biggest killers, accounting for two-thirds of all deaths in 2009, according to the latest Ministry of Health figures.

Massey University school of public health professor Sally Casswell co- authored a paper published in a Lancet series on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) this week.

The series follows the World Health Assembly's adoption last year of a new global target of a 25 per cent reduction in preventable NCD deaths by 2025.

The paper Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries found alcohol and food industries used similar strategies to the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies and programmes.

It also found that industry self- regulation and public-private partnerships to improve health did not work.

For this reason, governments had to intervene and make sure policy on NCD was not influenced by the companies that are feeding the epidemics, the paper said.

Prof Casswell said the Government had missed its chance to regulate the alcohol industry when new legislation reforming alcohol laws was introduced last year.

The legislation would have made a real difference on alcohol related harm if the strongest interventions on price and marketing had remained.

These, she said, were also the most strongly opposed recommendations by the alcohol industry.

She said the Government was going down the right path for tobacco by increasing the cost of cigarettes and restricting marketing through plain packaging. This should also be done for alcohol and high-energy, low-nutrient food and drinks to restrict availability and everyday influence, she said.

"Some of the research suggests that before kids can tie their shoelaces they are well aware of the McDonald's brand. We also know that kids have favourite brands of alcohol from very early ages - before they've started to drink."

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the supply of alcohol and tobacco was already regulated to varying degrees, but rejected the idea of interfering with highly processed food.

"This Government, however, doesn't take a nanny state approach to people's food choices and will not be putting a tax on sugary or fatty food and drink."

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Work was being done on reducing the harm of non-communicable diseases and includes dedicated stroke units, B4 school checks, fruit in schools and annual increases in tobacco taxes.

Two of the national health targets - more heart and diabetes checks and better help for smokers to quit - focused on prevention of NCD, Mr Ryall said.

- The Dominion Post

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