As soon as I heard the Health Minister had announced the revised list of health targets, which exclude nutrition and obesity, I felt a blog coming on. Especially since it kind of slipped in quietly, with the media otherwise occupied with shootings and ‘flu.
While Tony Ryall argues that work in the areas dropped from the previous health targets is still important, I can only assume it’s not quite important enough to be a targeted priority.
The way we eat affects our health as a nation enormously – and in more ways than just our physical health. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. What seems to be up for debate is where the responsibility lies for what and how people eat.
When Tony Ryall says that DHBs should not be held accountable for ensuring people eat their fruits and veggies, I tend to agree with him. When public health experts say that people need a supportive environment to make healthy choices, I also agree with them. Surely as a community we all need to play a part in creating a supportive environment, including the DHBs. While the teams of experts within DHBs are doing a great job, they can’t achieve this on their own.
Most major food manufacturers and marketers are voluntarily taking significant steps to improve the nutritional compositition of their products and are playing their part in recommending responsible dietary consumption. Having said that, some food manufacturers and retailers could definitely focus more on improving the nutritional content of their offerings. For example, my local café serves very indulgent meals to its regular customers and it’s hard to find a menu item that doesn’t provide more fat/salt and/or sugar than what is desirable on a regular basis.
But people vote with their stomach when it comes to food choice, and those prioritising their physical health over everything else are sadly few and far between. Making fruit and vegetables available, tasty, accessible, desirable, easy to prepare and affordable is the real task at hand, and no one should expect DHBs alone to be held accountable for this – just because they have to pick up the bill for obesity. We all need to be accountable, but the Minister’s announcement may not help to underscore the importance of this.