Can the food industry really battle obesity?
By Alison White
The New Zealand Food Industry Accord, launched by the Minister of Health in 2004, is the food industry's response to the challenge of obesity. It calls on signatories to do all that is possible to encourage all sectors of the industry to create commercially successful products and services that will make a positive contribution to the health of New Zealanders. Understood to be a world first, the Accord brings together all the participants in the production and sale of food - producers, distributors, retailers, marketers, advertisers and media. The Accord commits signatories to recognising that obesity is a major risk to public health and to working collaboratively to tackle it.
One year on, Ashleigh Bloomfield of the Ministry of Health's Healthy Eating, Healthy Action section, stated in a talk at the Wellington School of Medicine that the NZ Food Industry Accord is potentially the most exciting initiative in the battle against obesity. McDonalds, for example, have reduced the saturated fat content of their fried food by using oil instead of beef tallow. [Ed. Note: The potentially adverse effects of heating oils to high temperatures are not being considered.] A review of the children and food codes of advertising, once signed off, will mean that some ads now on would not pass muster.
It was cynically pointed out from the audience that while the Sarah Ulmer TV ad may have resulted in increased sales of salads at McDonalds, it has also resulted in a massive sales growth of everything else. In other words, McDonalds are selling more hamburgers because of their salads.
Alarmingly, advertising more diet drinks (containing aspartame) and pushing them into schools is regarded as progress.
Real progress is yet to be seen, it can be concluded. Meanwhile, in the US measures to get unhealthy food out of schools is being consistently opposed by food industry.