Exchanging ideas on challenges to healthier food policies

Exchanging ideas on challenges to healthier food policies

Author: Robin Ireland, Director of Research, Food Active and Healthy Stadia.

I was extremely fortunate to visit New Zealand and Australia in January and February 2017 and used the opportunity to meet colleagues and to discuss local food policies.

In New Zealand, I spoke at an event on 31st January at the University of Auckland hosted by Professor Boyd Swinburn of the School of Population Health within Medical and Health Services. Growing attention has been given to national food policies and the food environment. For example in 2016, I participated in applying a Food Environment Policy Index (Food EPI) developed by an international network of experts in agreeing priority actions that could significantly reduce obesity and diet-related diseases (1). Whilst national action is necessary, this does not mean that local activity to promote healthy eating is impossible and of course Food Active has developed the Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight in the North West.

In Auckland, Healthy Auckland Together (2) is facing most of the challenges that we are trying to address in our own region in England. “Our obesity problem is the result of a normal response by normal people to an abnormal environment. We need to tackle the food, urban, school, work and transport environments – so these all contribute to Aucklanders’ health”.

In February, I flew to Australia. I was very kindly hosted by Professor William (Bill) Bellew of the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney. I was delighted to be invited to take part in: Big Food, Big Soda, Big Trouble: A Colloquium on 9th February which was jointly organised by the University of Sydney, Cancer Council New South Wales and the University of Wollongong.

Excellent presentations from Australian colleagues such as Bill Bellew, Zoe Richards, Bridget Kelly, Becky Freeman and James Kite discussed the various tactics of the Food and Drink Industry.  Are we now able to turn “social (public good-focused) countermarketing” (3) to attempt to address the tactics of industry who customarily market products High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS)?

I had already been fortunate enough to visit Wendy Watson of the Cancer Council New South Wales and to hear about some of their programmes including the wonderful ‘Junkbusters’ (4). Junkbusters makes it easier for concerned parents to complain about inappropriate junk food marketing. Operation Eagle Eye, just announced by the Children’s Food Campaign in the UK, hopes to take a very similar approach (5).

I also spoke about Healthy Stadia in Sydney and a further blog will discuss Sport and Corporate Social Responsibility.

If we need reminding why obesity is a worldwide problem where we need to share approaches and tactics, just check the data below. Sadly New Zealand, Australia and the UK look pretty similar on this! As industry works globally, so must public health as we learn from and share tactics on addressing obesity.


  1. The Food Foundation. 2016. Priorities for tackling the obesity crisis in England. Expert agreement on what needs to be done. Accessed online: http://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Food-Environment-policy-brief.pdf. Last accessed: 06.03.17.
  2. Healthy Auckland Together: http://www.healthyaucklandtogether.org.nz/. Last accessed: 06.03.17
  3. Bellew, William, Bauman, Adrian, Freeman, Becky, Kite, James. 2017. Social countermarketing: brave new world, brave new map. Journal of Social Marketing20177:2
  4. Cancer Council: Junkbusters. Accessed online: http://junkbusters.com.au/. Last accessed: 12.03.17
  5. Operation Eagle Eye. Accessed online: https://www.sustainweb.org/childrensfoodcampaign/eagle_eye/. Last accessed: 12.03.17
  6. The Global Rise of Obesity. Blog. 10 February 2016. Accessed online: https://blog.dacadoo.com/2016/02/10/the-global-rise-of-obesity/?utm_content=bufferec6f6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer. Last accessed: 06.03.17.

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