Attack on obesity plan flawed, inconsistent

23 August 2016

A report that attacks the Government’s obesity plan and renews calls for a tax on sugary drinks is flawed on many fronts, says Katherine Rich.

FGC was asked by FairfaxMedia to comment on the report by Auckland University epidemiologists Gerhard Sundborn​ and Simon Thorley, marketing lecturer Bodo Lang and New Zealand Dental Association spokesman Rob Beaglehole.

In it they said the plan was weak and didn’t address what they claimed was the cause of obesity – excess sugar consumption. It was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ) on Friday 19 August.

Despite FGC responding well within deadline, Fairfax published a story on the report without any of  our rebuttal.

Below is the response FGC sent to Fairfax. At the bottom is a link to their article, as well as a draft of the report it is based on.


  • It's disappointing that education about good nutrition and physical activity are dismissed by the authors as being part of a solution to obesity. Both are vital to healthy lives and preventing obesity and overweight, particularly for children. 
  • The idea that the Health Star Rating is soft on sugar is absolutely wrong. The algorithm punishes high sugar levels which cannot be offset completely by fibre and fruits. The rating system is easy for shoppers to understand and looks at the whole food, not just its component parts. It provides information not just on sugar, but also energy, sodium, fibre and saturated fat. There's even more information on the nutrition panel.
  • With the criticism of Sanitarium Natural Muesli, the authors have made the classic error of forgetting that there's sugar in fruit such as sultanas, raisins, apricots and papaya.
  • Most New Zealanders consume a moderate level of sucrose, within the WHO recommendation, for added sugars below 10% of their total energy intake. Government authorities and industry continue to advise Kiwis not to eat too many treat foods.
  • The authors say “we cannot educate … our way out of the obesity epidemic” but later say that under a renewed focus that prioritises sugar “initiatives would be centred around communicating risks of a high sugar diet, highlighting maximum daily intake of sugar, and raising health literacy to enable consumers to calculate sugar content based on back of pack nutrition labels”. There’s a lack of consistency with their thinking.
  • They say a sugar tax would be the most effective way of deterring intake of sugary products, but we know from the Mexico tax experience that this does not work. The Mexican soda tax has generated billions of pesos, and after a slight decline initially, sales soon returned to pre-tax levels. 

Fairfax report

Draft report