Push for Tax on Junk Food Sales
Tuesday, April 18th 2006
Government officials are promoting the imposition of taxes on fast food and soft drinks and subsidising fruit and vegetables.
The ideas are promoted in a report from the Health Ministry and Auckland University as a way of reducing the 11,000 premature deaths a year the authors attribute to poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
The 220-page report is the first full assessment of the health effects of bad nutrition.
It says a range of national policies could be developed to influence food supply and buying patterns.
They include a ban on advertising high-fat and high-sugar foods, especially to children, taxing these foods, introducing subsidies or other incentives for the poor to by nutritious foods, and regulating portion sizes.
An earlier ministry discussion document floated the idea of a minimum legal age for buying junk food.
The Act Party has campaigned in Parliament against a fat tax and Health Minister Annette King said yesterday that she opposed the introduction of any such measure, as well as fruit and vegetable subsidies.
They would be too complicated to implement and were merely the suggestions of public health officials and researchers, she said.
The latest report, based on 1997 data, finds that the four nutrition-related risk factors studied are among the leading causes of premature deaths. High cholesterol took the highest annual toll, at 4700 avoidable deaths.
"Only tobacco consumption ranked higher, with approximately 5000 deaths in 1997," the report says.
Of the 11,000 premature deaths, which are 40 per cent of all deaths, 8000 to 9000 reflect diet and 2000 to 3000 reflect physical inactivity.
Nutrition-related risks accounted for more than 85 per cent of heart disease and 70 per cent of strokes. Being overweight was responsible for more than 80 per cent of type 2 diabetes.
Excess weight and insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption accounted for more than 6 per cent of cancer deaths.
Looking to 2011, the researchers predict that about 1000 deaths a year could be delayed by "feasible" nutritional improvements in all four risk areas.
Fruit and vegetable intake is expected to increase to 455g (5.6 servings) a day by 2011 on present trends; lifting that to 6.2 servings would lengthen the lives of an estimated 330 people each year.
"It's kind of like an (extra) apple a day saves a couple of hundred lives a year," said one of the authors, Dr Anthony Rodgers, of the university's clinical trials research unit.
"Something people have suggested in the past is taking GST off fruit and vegetables."
"That would involve many sectors outside the Ministry of Health, but it's about making healthy alternatives more affordable and accessible."
Like Ms King, he advocates collaboration with food manufacturers to implement inexpensive changes to make food healthier, such as reducing the salt content of bread and breakfast cereals, and the amount of fat in chips.
Many breakfast cereals had as much salt, weight for weight, as seawater.
Dr Rodgers said he was surprised that cholesterol was so close to tobacco as a premature killer. Cholesterol was a weaker population-risk factor in most other Western countries.
Source; New Zealand Herald, Thursday 8th August 2003
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Acid and alkaline forming foods
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Ensure healthy gut function with probiotic supplementation
Free radicals and antioxidants
Levels of protein, carbohydrate and fat in Food
Protein - a macronutrient so often overlooked
The Good Health Diet
Water, the elixir of life
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Doctors Alarmed by Gene-Altered Foods
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