Calls for ECEs to ban unhealthy foods show many out of touch

Recent calls to ban the promotion and sale of unhealthy foods in ECE centres shows how out of touch some people are in the obesity debate, says FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich. 

Mrs Rich was commenting on the six policies that attracted the greatest support from a panel of “public health experts” to tackle obesity in young people. The policies included ‘Ensuring schools and ECE centres are free of commercial promotion of unhealthy foods’, and ‘No sales of unhealthy foods in schools and ECE centres.’

“I wonder whether those calling for change in ECE centres aren’t aware of the New Zealand situation. ECEs generally don’t have canteens or sell food.”

Mrs Rich also addressed the remaining four policies, which included setting salt-content targets; further restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to young people, including sports sponsorship and television advertising; mandatory front-of-pack star rating of packaged foods (if not adopted by the food industry); and a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.

Here, FGC answers the six policies that attracted the greatest support:

1. That the Government set salt-content targets for certain food groups and a standard for fatty acid content of commercial deep frying fats.

The food industry has done a huge amount of work over many years on reformulating products to remove fat, salt and sugar. Companies started reducing salt in foods a decade ago, and great progress has been made, for example, by the bread and breakfast cereal industry, and by manufacturers of processed meats. Reformulation of many leading breads has resulted in about 150 tonnes of salt being removed from the bread supply each year. Likewise, cereal manufacturers have reformulated many popular brands, removing many tonnes of salt from the cereal supply each year. Companies are continually reformulating and are achieving reductions of between 5% and 25% at one time, as determined by consumer acceptance. The same goes for reformulating to reduce sugar and fat. There are many product examples with reduced or zero sugar and fat launched over the past 10 years so there are many options for shoppers.

 2. Further restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to young people, including sports sponsorship and television advertising.

There are stringent industry rules in place regarding advertising food to children. Companies support the Children’s Code for Advertising Food, which includes the responsible obligation that any advertising should not encourage children to eat energy-dense foods in excess, as well as other provisions such as restrictions on the time certain advertisements are aired on television. In reality, there is very little food advertising directed at children. A recent analysis of all advertising on television in children’s time across a year showed that just 6% of ads were for food or beverage products, and this included a campaign to promote eating more fruit and vegetables.

3. Ensuring schools and ECE centres are free of commercial promotion of unhealthy foods.

4. No sales of unhealthy foods in schools and ECE centres.

In terms of comments regarding selling products to schools and ECE – major beverage manufacturers have a voluntary commitment to not sell full-sugar and energy drinks to schools, as part of the Voluntary Schools Agreement. This has been in place for some years. It’s clear that those calling for change in ECE centres aren’t aware of the New Zealand situation: ECEs don’t have canteens or sell food. Many companies’ involvement with schools is through the Heart Foundation’s fuelled4life  initiative, which involves the education, health, and food industry sectors working together to make it easier to have healthier food in schools. For companies to be accepted into that programme, their foods have to be healthy choices, and some have invested in reformulating products to ensure they are accepted. The programme is designed to inspire schools to provide tasty, nutritious products and to encourage the food industry to produce and supply healthier foods and beverages that young people will want to consume.

5. Mandatory front-of-pack star rating of packaged foods if not voluntarily adopted by the food industry.

A good number of companies have already adopted the Health Star Rating on front of packs, just months after it was implemented, and others are intending to follow suit as labelling is due to be updated.

6. A 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks.

A group of academics regularly calls for taxes on food. In the past year there have been calls for taxes on sugar, fat and salt. But taxes on sugar, fat and salt haven’t worked anywhere in the world they have been tried. They do nothing to reduce obesity in any age group, let alone children. All they do is raise the price of groceries and that most hurts those who can least afford it, and raise money for the Government. Food taxes in Mexico would be the most recent experiment.