Minister warns food industry must step up

David Clark.
David Clark
Health Minister Dr David Clark has warned that further action is needed from the food industry to help counter the "serious issue" of rising obesity and diabetes levels.

Dr Clark says he will be having discussions with food industry manufacturers, and will be discussing their efforts to improve food quality, including by reducing added sugar content."I’m prepared to regulate if they do not step up."

The Government would "take action" if improvements were not made, he said.

Dr Clark was commenting in Dunedin on Friday afternoon, during a three-talk presentation on international efforts to counter obesity and diabetes, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

These presentations were hosted by the Edgar Obesity and Diabetes Research Centre and the Government-funded Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, which are both directed by Prof Jim Mann, of the University of Otago.

The British Government willsoon implement two forms of sugar tax, and several British manufacturers of sugary drinks have already reformulated their drinks to greatly reduce the sugar content and to eliminate or reduce their exposure to the tax.

Dr Clark said diabetes and its associated problems of health inequity amounted to a "serious issue" in New Zealand, and already had a major impact, with diabetes-related costs amounting to 11% of the country’s health budget.

He highlighted problems with overweight young people and adults and pointed to the important role played by adequate sleep in maintaining weight control.

New Zealand had the third highest adult obesity rate in the world, he said. An OECD "obesity update" report released last year showed that nearly one in three New Zealanders were obese, and that at 30.7% of the adult population, New Zealand’s obesity level remained the third greatest in the world, behind only the United States (38.2%) and Mexico (32.4%).

Dr Clark strongly praised the beneficial leadership shown by Sir Eion Edgar and Prof Mann over diabetes and obesity research.

A leading British diabetes researcher, Prof Nick Wareham, who is director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, also spoke on Friday.

In a story published in the Otago Daily Times on Friday, Prof Wareham pointed to the UK sugar tax and said New Zealand should take "bold" steps, including implementing a sugar tax, and and helping redesign cities to make physical activity easier to undertake.

Prof Jeff Reading, a leading Canadian researcher in indigenous health, also spoke on Friday, and said both the Canadian and New Zealand governments were trying to tackle the causes of indigenous health issues.

Canada had learned a good deal from New Zealand approaches to indigenous health equity and cultural safety training for health professionals.

There was scope for more mutual learning and for closer research connections between the two countries, he said.

Prof Reading is the inaugural British Columbia First Nations Health Authority Heart Health and Wellness Chair at St. Paul’s Hospital.


Much of the food that enters a person's body is done by choice. We are not obliged to eat unhealthy foods.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter