Source: Radio New Zealand, 9 September 2016
Writing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Auckland
University nutrition expert Cliona Ni Mhurchu said a World Health
Organisation (WHO) system for deciding whether foods and drinks are
healthy should underpin a revised code on marketing them to
One in nine children in New Zealand are obese and a further 22
Marketing or promotion of foods to children is governed by the
Advertising Standards Authority, which is set to release findings
of a review shortly.
The authority would not disclose the outcome of its third review
in a decade of the codes on advertising to children, including on
Chief executive Hilary Souter said it had asked for comment on
whether there was a role for a nutrient profiling system and
suggestions on which system it should use.
She said it would likely release a revised code in the next two
or three weeks.
Prof Ni Mhurchu said the WHO system was better than current
options, including the Health Star Rating system introduced two
years ago, and the Ministry of Health's Food and Beverage
"It excludes foods that we wouldn't want to be marketed to
children, like sugary breakfast cereals and fruit bars and sugary
drinks," she said.
"Whereas the other systems, because they were developed for
different purposes - unless they were modified quite a bit - would
allow foods to be marketed to children that are not considered with
healthy diets and reducing obesity rates."
She said the WHO model would only permit marketing of 33.5
percent of New Zealand breakfast cereals used in her analysis.
The Health Star Rating system, which involves voluntarily
labelling food with nutritional information, would permit marketing
of 77 percent, while the Ministry of Health's system - which
governs food available in schools - would allow 75 percent.
No matter which system was adopted, Prof Ni Mhurchu said
independent monitoring would also be needed to see if it had an
effect on the foods being marketed to children.
"Because if it doesn't, then that's when we really do need to be
She said evidence suggested regulation was more effective.
She was backed by population health professor Boyd Swinburn, who
said the WHO system was designed for marketing to children and New
Zealand should adopt it unless there was a good reason not to.
"There's no evidence that any voluntary codes work,
internationally, to restrict marketing to children," he said.
"And this one would need to be very tight and well evaluated
before, I think, the health community would believe that it is
doing a sufficient job to protect children."
However, implementing the WHO system would not be the end of the
battle, he warned.
"If this comes in then companies will start just marketing their
brand rather than their foods, and so the next challenge will be to
say 'Is this an unhealthy brand or not'."