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University of Otago researchers are among a group recommending a national health food policy for all schools be adopted.
The policy should build on the healthy food policy that District Health Boards have adopted and hospitals across New Zealand are presently adopting, the researchers say.
Professor in human nutrition and medicine Jim Mann and Prof Tony Blakely, of the university's department of public health in Wellington, together with colleagues from the University of Auckland are co-hosting and organising a symposium about diet-related disease in New Zealand, which begins in Wellington today.
Prof Blakely said strategies like a sugar sweetened beverage tax to reduce consumption of sugary drinks had been shown to work in other countries, were highly cost-effective and could work well in New Zealand.
Prof Mann said unhealthy diet was the leading preventable risk for poor health in New Zealand.
"Despite encouraging recent trends, rates of diet-related disease remain high and are major contributors to inequity of health outcomes in New Zealand.
"There is convincing evidence that dietary changes can profoundly reduce risk but population-based initiatives will be required to help their implementation.''
Prof Cliona Ni Mhurchu, of the University of Auckland said New Zealand had the third highest levels of obesity in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
"Our inexorably rising levels of obesity and associated diseases mean we must rethink our approaches to the way we tackle these diseases.''
The researchers will present the latest evidence that is unique to New Zealand and calling on the Government for strong leadership, she said.
"We urgently need commitment (from the Government and agencies) on new approaches, such as a government-led reformulation programme to reduce salt, sugar and saturated fats in New Zealand packaged and processed foods.''
Another of the symposium organisers, Prof Boyd Swinburn, of the University of Auckland, said food industry-led `pledges' in the past had not worked.
"Creation of a healthier population food supply requires commitment, strong leadership and legislation by the Government to move this ahead.''
- Staff reporter