18 May 2015

Dairy limit part of anti-obesity plan

7:00 pm on 18 May 2015

Local dairies are in the firing line as public health authorities fight to trim the nation's waistlines.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service wants to limit what dairies can sell to children, as well as new laws to restrict how many can be in one area.

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Photo: RNZ

It said dairies were helping to make the country fat, and Auckland's neighbourhoods were saturated with cheap, energy-dense food.

Health service clinical director Julia Peters said that needed to change.

"You've only got to go into a dairy or a convenience store and you see what you are confronted with is sugar-sweetened fizzy beverages, chocolate bars, chippies, lollies et cetera."

The plans have been revealed in a report to Healthy Auckland Together, an obesity-fighting group that includes the public health service, district health boards, Auckland Council, and iwi.

The groups plan to lobby for changes to the Resource Management Act to give councils the power to stop new dairies, convenience stores and takeaways being built, in the same way they can for alcohol outlets.

Dr Peters said they were not picking on dairies, but they are a part of a very big problem. One-third of children were overweight or obese, and two-thirds of Auckland's 540 schools and 1200 early childhood centres had one or more dairies within 10 minutes' walk, she said.

She told Morning Report there was nothing nanny-state about wanting children to be well-nourished, to not be obese, and to be able to take part fully in society.

The service would like dairies to voluntarily limit what they sell to children.

Dairy owners sceptical

Auckland dairy owner Ibrahim, from the Wellington Street Superette, said he did not want to see the number of dairies restricted.

"Everybody's allowed to work. Everybody's allowed to have a business. We can't restrict everything in this world," he said.

"I know in some areas they have three dairies and they're still doing good."

He said liquor stores sold a substance that did far more harm and dairies should not be treated in the same way.

Ibrahim is also sceptical about the plan to get dairies to limit what they sell to children, saying it was parents' jobs to decide what to feed them, not shopkeepers.

Another dairy owner spoken to by Radio New Zealand said she would consider restricting what she sold to primary school children, but not high school students.

Others said they would find it very difficult to turn children away unless there was a firm law as there is for cigarettes.

This is not likely to be on the horizon, with Dr Peters saying that any lolly freeze by dairies would have to be voluntary.

Greg Harford from Retail New Zealand said targeting dairies would not work, because children would just go to supermarkets or fuel stations.

He said some dairies would no longer be viable.

"Dairies are there as a convenient service for people in the community who can't get to a super market and just need to buy a pint of milk, or what have you.

"Getting rid of them is not going to be in the interest of consumers."

Voluntary junk food limit

However, the move is not as unlikely as it sounds.

Six out of seven dairies near Hamilton's Rhode Street school agreed not to sell junk food to children in school uniform after the student council asked them not to.

The principal, Shane Ngatai, said the effect was visible in the sugar spot checks they do from time to time.

"When we did the first bag inspection, we found over $100 worth of sugar in two classes alone. Now we're not finding any."

Mr Ngatai is completely behind the idea to take the plan wider.

"I don't want to become the food police and I don't want to be labelled a nanny state," he said.

"But we don't sell tobacco to kids, we don't sell alcohol. Why are we selling this drug, sugar?"

The plans for dairies are only one part of the Healthy Auckland Together proposal, which is expected to be finalised in the next couple of months.

Auckland Primary Principals Association, Frances Nelson said the rules would be difficult to enforce, but voluntary agreements would be welcome.

She said voluntary agreements would give dairy owners the chance to work with communities, and they might benefit from more local support if they adopted them.

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