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Nikki Kaye – playing politics with children’s health

16 February 2019 5 comments

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It is a given that most politicians will do whatever it takes to win voters to get elected. It’s pretty much why their reputation is often at the same level as telemarketers and sex-workers (which, fair to say, is a slight on sex workers and telemarketers).

The responsibility for our perceived untrustworthiness of politicians is generally laid directly at their feet, when they often say things that are;

  • a manipulation of facts/statistics
  • cherry-picks facts, omitting the whole picture
  • promises that are eventually watered-down or dumped entirely (eg, as with National’s policy to include agriculture in the ETS scheme in 2008, 2014, and 2015
  • convenient “memory lapses”
  • an outright, obvious lie

Our previous prime minister, John Key, could be flexible with the truth – and the public knew it.

The latest piece of self-serving political grandstanding came recently from National MP, Ms Nikki Kaye.

Usually one of National’s more sensible and mature MPs, she took a swipe at Green Party MP, Gareth Hughes’ call to restrict unhealthy foods sold in schools and instead opt for healthier options;

“Last year we saw 29,000 kids have their teeth pulled, obesity is going up – we are facing an epidemic – and our schools are still selling pies and cokes and chips and lollies.

I think we’re a food bowl in New Zealand. We could be providing nutritious, affordable food for every kid.”

Ms Kaye’s response was to drag out the old “Nanny State bogeyman;

“We need to acknowledge the world’s moved on since 10 years ago, so we need to acknowledge many more schools are providing healthy options and it is a bit nanny state.”

Her snide dismissal of addressing this crisis in our children’s health flies in the fact that obesity is a growing epidemic in our country. According to a recent statement from the Ministry of Health;

New Zealand has the third highest adult obesity rate in the OECD, and our rates are rising. Almost one in three adult New Zealanders (over 15 years) is obese, and one in ten children.

Ministry of Health statistics show a grim increase in our obesity levels – including for our children;

Adult obesity statistics

The New Zealand Health Survey 2017/18 found that:

  • around 1 in 3 adults (aged 15 years and over) were obese (32%)
  • 47% of Māori adults were obese
  • 65% of Pacific adults were obese
  • adults living in the most deprived areas were 1.6 times as likely to be obese as adults living in the least deprived areas*
  • the adult obesity rate increased from 27% in 2006/07 to 32% in 2017/18.

Child obesity statistics

The New Zealand Health Survey 2017/18 found that:

  • around 1 in 8 children (aged 2–14 years) were obese (12%)
  • 17% of Māori children were obese
  • 30% of Pacific children were obese
  • children living in the most deprived areas were 2.1 times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas*
  • the child obesity rate increased from 8% in 2006/07 to 12% in 2017/18.

The increase in child obesity occurred under National’s watch and was not helped by then-Minister of Education, Anne Tolley and then-Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, who scrapped the previous Labour government’s Healthy Food in Schools policy;

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By 2038, an estimated two million New Zealanders will be obese, according to Otago University. The additional pressures on our health system with increased diabetes, heart disease, etc, will be staggering.

Even National could no longer ignore our worsening obesity epidemic. In October 2015, the Ministry of Health launched a Childhood obesity plan. The policy appeared largely ineffective as obesity levels grew.

And even Nikki Kaye understood the looming crisis, when she stated in April last year;

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“Physical inactivity cost New Zealand’s health care system over $200 million in 2013 and some research indicates that around 20 per cent of young Auckland children are overweight.

The Education Minister needs to continue the Auckland Education Growth Plan which was being worked on by the previous Government and was due to be considered by Cabinet last November. It is important to look at the work done so far to factor in potential opportunities around sport and recreational infrastructure.

We must prioritise sport and recreation in our communities and Auckland Council and the Government must front up with more funding to support Auckland’s sporting infrastructure.

Nowhere does she address the grim reality that we are feeding crap “food” to our children.

National MPs would be hysterical with rage if marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, etc, was made legally available to children. Not for one moment would they accept the nonsensical proposition that banning children from accessing such drugs (whether legal or not) would be  “Nanny Statish”.

But when it comes to crap food with high levels of salt, fat, and sugar – then it’s acceptable to National MPs. It becomes a “free choice” issue. That’s despite a supposedly intelligent, well-informed person like Ms Kaye being cognisant of the fact that “… around 20 per cent of young Auckland children are overweight”.

Referring to plans to combat rising obesity in our children should be a social responsibility, just as preventing drink-driving and smoking in restaurants and bars became the norm.

Labelling anything that reduced child obesity as “nanny state” is reprehensible because it plays politics with our young people. Invoking “nanny state” to win a few votes is self-serving.

A politician who casually parrots and throws around catch-phrases like “Nanny State” exploits the health of our children for personal gain.

Ms Kaye should reconsider her stance on healthy food in our schools. Or consider changing professions to something equivalent to political activity – but not likely to be a liability to our children’s health.

Try telemarketing.

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References

Bay of Plenty Times: So, just how trusted is your profession?

Scoop media: ‘Carbon neutral’ policy added to scrap heap

Interest: National would phase in ETS obligations for transport, electricity, industrial sectors; Will review Agriculture in 2014, will only put it in if technology to help is there

NZ Herald: Agriculture ruled out in Emissions Trading Scheme review

TVNZ: Defiant John Key defends Cameron Slater texts: ‘I haven’t been caught out’

Mediaworks/Newshub: Public sides with Dotcom in poll

Mediaworks/Newshub: Green Party calling for return of food in school guidelines to keep kids healthy

Ministry of Health: Obesity

Ministry of Health: Childhood obesity plan

Ministry of Health: Obesity statistics

NZ Herald: Greasy school tuckshop food on way out

Fairfax/Stuff media:  Schools’ healthy food rule scrapped

NZ Herald: Two million obese New Zealanders by 2038, study finds

National: Council & Govt must prioritise sport infrastructure

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

Children’s Health: not a high priority for Health Minister Tony Ryall

Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 February 2019.

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We don’t want to send the wrong message – John Key

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One morning, on Monday, 15 August, Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner briefly interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader for the Checkpoint programme;

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john key on cannabis - radio nz - checkpoint - 15.8.16

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Subject; a recent poll  showing that 64% supported possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be  legal (33%) or decriminalised (31%). Only 34% of the 1,029 respondents  supported the current status quo of prohibition.

Espiner pointedly asked Key whether he thought cannabis should be decriminalised or legalised.

Key responded that he “was not a fan” of making cannabis legal.

Key referred to Parliament “sending a message” to society;

@ 0.38

“…Y’now, one of the things that Parliament does is send a message to people about, um, activity we want to see or not want to see. And, um, in the case of drugs, um, I think if we were, as Parliament, were to decriminalise then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased drug use is ok.”

@ 1.20

“…We see longer sentences for instance for domestic violence because we’re, um, trying to send a message as a Parliament that we’re deeply opposed to the domestic violence statistics in New Zealand [and] we’re going to do something about it.”

Dear Leader stuck to his spin-doctored script, using the phrase, “sending a message”, three times.

So the National-dominated Parliament was “sending a message”?

Key’s rationale, as he stated at around 0.38 into the interview was “ were to decriminalise then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased drug use is ok“.

Really?

Are “messages” from Parliament to the rest of New Zealand critically important?

The previous Labour Government also intended that a  “message” was sent from Parliament  to our children, back in 2008;

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As I wrote back in November 2015;

As with taxing tobacco products in New Zealand – a method proven to work – increasing the price of an unhealthy product reduces consumption. Especially amongst the poor, who are particularly susceptible to pernicious marketing and supply of cheap, unhealthy ‘foods’. A Parliamentary report here in New Zealand showed that obesity was especially prevalent in lower socio-economic areas;

In 2012/13, a Ministry of Health-led survey estimated that three out of ten New Zealand adults were obese (31.3%), an increase of 2.7% from 2011/12  and an increase of 18.6% in the 25 years since 1989   Obesity rates were highest amongst Pacific adults (68%) and Māori adults (48.3%).

The same survey found that after adjusting for age, sex, and ethnicity, adults living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas were 1.5 more times as likely to be obese as those living in the least deprived areas.

However, our esteemed ‘Health’ Minister, Dr (!) Jonathan Coleman was/is not convinced.

On 28 June, last year, speaking on TVNZ’s Q+A, Dr Coleman said;

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Not necessarily. No, the evidence doesn’t show that. If you look at the evidence for sugar tax, right, it shows actually it’s very low in terms of disability-adjusted life years lost, so that’s basically saying that, look, there’s no evidence that it’s going to end up with people living longer, healthier lives. What there is evidence for is actually eating less and exercising more, and so I’m focusing my efforts on education, getting people to actually live more healthy, active lifestyles. Sugar taxes get a lot of attention. No evidence that it works.

Four months later, in an interview with Dr Jonathan Coleman, on TV3’s The Nation, on 24 October;

Patrick Gower: Looking at a soft-drink tax –why not?

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks.

Patrick Gower: And consumption dropped. That’s evidence, isn’t it?

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect, so there were other things going on – a tanking Mexican economy, $30 billion drinking-water programme. It’s also not clear if there’s substitution to other beverages. So we’re saying, look, you know, there’s some evidence that’s being assessed – it’s going to be reported on in 2017 at Waikato University as well as the University of North Carolina – but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to.

Patrick Gower: Well, the World Health Organization, which put out that major report recently, led by our own Sir Peter Gluckman, you know, that has said, and I will quote it for you, ‘The rationale and effectiveness of taxation measures to influence consumption are well supported by available evidence.’

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Well, they might be talking about a decrease in sales. But what we want to know about is – is there a link to obesity directly? So, for instance, there might be a decrease in consumption of soft drinks, but are people drinking more flavoured milk? Are they drinking beer as a substitution? What is says in that report is that, actually, there isn’t clear evidence. On balance, they recommend it, but, look, that’s the WHO, you know? You would expect that they would take a very purist view. And I met with the commissioners personally. I talked to Sir Peter Gluckman.

Patrick Gower: What about this for evidence? If a tax doesn’t work or there’s no evidence for it, what about with cigarettes? Because your own government’s putting up the price of cigarettes and saying that that is working to stop smoking.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Well, that’s a different issue. So, yes, if you put a tax on something, it will decrease consumption, but what I’m interested in is – will that decrease obesity? So say, for instance, we tax something. You might drink less Coke, but are you drinking beer or flavoured milk instead?

This was an interesting exchange between Gower and Coleman. Note that his first contention is that sugar taxes do not work;

“Because, actually, there’s not the conclusive evidence, right? There might be a correlation in those Mexican studies, so they put a 9% tax on soft drinks […]  Sales decreased, but it’s not clear if that’s a correlation or a causative effect […] but there isn’t any direct evidence of causation that anyone can point to…

But only a few seconds later, Coleman makes this startling admission;

“So, yes, if you put a tax on something, it will decrease consumption…”

That was a slip on his part. The National Party politician in Dr Jonathan Coleman was instructed to parrot the official line: ‘there is no evidence that sugar taxes work‘ (even though that is precisely the same mechanism used to reduce tobacco consumption).

As I then asked;

What could be wrong with providing healthy food options for our children? Who could possibly object to fighting obesity in our youngest citizens, who are vulnerable to the highly-processed, addictive, sugary and fatty foods that are a plague on Western (and increasingly developing) contries?

Who indeed…

Need we ask? And are we surprised?

It was 2009, and National was in power;

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Two and a half years later, the consequences were predictable, dire, and costly;

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more-weight-loss-surgery-funded

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By April 2016 – seven years after National scrapped Labour’s healthy-foods-in-schools legislation, the cost of weight-loss surgery has continued to escalate;

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Dollars up as pounds go down for funded weight loss surgery

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Which raises the fairly obvious question; what message was Parliament (ie; National) sending to our children in March 2009, when it abandoned the campaign to implement healthy food options in our schools?

What “message” was Parliament (ie; National) sending to all New Zealanders?

To paraphrase John Key’s statement to Guyon Espiner on 15 August;

“…Y’now, one of the things that Parliament does is send a message to people about, um, activity we want to see or not want to see. And, um, in the case of unhealthy, disease-causing foods, um, I think if we were, as Parliament, were to permit unhealthy foods in schools then one of the messages we’d be sending is that increased obesity use is ok.”

That would be a good message to send.

I look forward to it.

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Is there appetite for change on legalising cannabis?

Radio NZ: Majority back decriminalisation of cannabis use, poll suggests

NZ Herald: Greasy school tuckshop food on way out

NZ Treasury: Increase in Tobacco Excise and Equivalent Duties

Parliament: Research papers – Obesity and diabetes in New Zealand

Fight the Obesity Epidemic (FOE): NZ: National reversal on healthy food in schools “incredible”

TVNZ Q+A: Coleman – We’ll tackle obesity but no tax or legislation

TV3 The Nation: Health Minister Jonathan Coleman

World Health Organisation: Healthy diet

Fairfax media: Schools’ healthy food rule scrapped

Radio NZ: More weight loss surgery funded

Sunday Star Times: Dollars up as pounds go down for funded weight loss surgery

Other Blogs

Politically Corrected NZ: Keywi integrity at it’s finest

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

10 August: Unhealthy Health Cuts

When is ‘Nanny State’ not a ‘Nanny State’?

From “Nanny” State to “Natzi” State?

You’ll have a free market – even if it KILLS you!

Why did the fat kiwi cross the road?

Weekend Revelations #1 – Dr Jonathan Coleman

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bad food government nz

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 August 2016.

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