Eat foods with less processing and avoid processed foods like chips, cookies and pasta. Try a variety of vegetables and fruit (at least three or more servings daily). Choose whole grain foods that are low in fat, like bread, muesli, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and barley. Drink milk, yoghurt and cheese that are lower in fat and salt.
The resurrected Public Health Advisory Committee will tackle access to healthy food and other factors that shape our eating habits as its first major project, Marc Daalder reports
Is New Zealand fulfilling people’s right to healthy food?
That’s one of the questions a new public health committee is striving to answer in its first major project.
The Public Health Advisory Committee was formed as part of the health reforms, after a previous independent body of the same name was disestablished under National in 2016. Kevin Hague, who chairs the new version and also sat on the old one, told Newsroom in an interview that he was glad to see it restored.
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“The contribution that the Public Health Advisory Committee made last time, which was around the longer term and deeper, thoughtful advice that officials typically are not well-placed to make. The reality of the environment that ministry officials work in is that, despite their best intentions, they’re often dragged back into what’s on top today,” he said.
“I’m very pleased that the Government has chosen to recreate this committee.”
Hague is a former Green Party MP and was the chief executive of Forest & Bird for six years, ending last year. The other members of the committee are Pasifika health expert Sir Collin Tukuitonga, Māori health provider Beverly Te Huia, cancer researcher Jason Gurney, mental health researcher Ruth Cunningham and social epidemiologist Peter Crampton.
Minutes from the committee’s first meetings show it hopes to tackle big issues like climate change and rural health. However, Health Minister Ayesha Verrall asked it to investigate food environments as its first main topic of work. Under the terms of reference, the committee has to complete at least one major piece of work each year.
“This was a topic where expert advice on solutions would be beneficial. It was acknowledged that the topic was broad and complex, but there were factors in the food environment space causing harm to New Zealanders’ health. Food security issues were heightened through the Covid-19 pandemic and continue to cause pressure due to cost of living. The PHAC would need to think creatively,” Verrall said, according to the minutes.
“Minister Verrall asked the PHAC to consider the food regulatory system, including food labelling and composition, acknowledging New Zealand’s regulatory system is joint with Australia through Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).”
A study released last year on food environments in New Zealand found children see 12 television ads per hour for unhealthy foods. In shops, three quarters of single serve drinks included added or natural sugars. Supermarkets in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to have junk food at every checkout station.
Hague told Newsroom the committee was using two rights-based frameworks for its investigation.
“The one that we’re probably most familiar with […] is the UN-derived framework falling out of the Declaration of Human Rights, and we’re doing some work with the Human Rights Commissioner to say, what does that mean? In terms of right to health, right to food, right to healthy food?” he said
“But we’re also looking at Waitangi Tribunal decisions. That UN framework tends to be viewed as more of an individual rights framework. The rights that are recognised by Te Tiriti o Waitangi are more collective rights – so what are the rights of iwi and hapū in relation to food?”
Aware that many thousands of pages have been written on this topic in past reports, Hague said the committee has been tasked by Verrall with producing something original with “innovative solutions”.
“What happens if you try and frame it the other way? What do really great food environments look like? What does great food production look like? What would a fantastic food retail environment look like?” he explained.
“We’re just starting a series of semi-structured interviews with key players, key informants, and I’m thinking that there’s a reasonable chance that that sort of framing might unlock some thinking that has been in the background until now. I’m certainly hoping so, because we’re anxious to meet the minister’s request for innovative solutions if we can find them.”
That work is slated to take around a year, with a report going to Verrall in early 2024. In the meantime, the committee is also feeding into the work on the Pae Ora health strategies which provide long-term guidance to the health system under the reforms. Those documents are due in July.