Working together for healthy communities

09 Jun, 2017


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Professor Elaine Rush is calling for the food industry and healthy eating campaigners to work together to create a healthier South Auckland.

Professor Elaine Rush is calling for the food industry and healthy eating campaigners to work together to create a healthier South Auckland.

New Zealand’s rising obesity rate is a major public health concern. Among those most at risk are communities in South Auckland.

In Counties Manukau, 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of children are obese. For Māori, 52 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are obese. For Pacific peoples, 73 percent of adults and 30 percent of children are obese.

The finger is pointed at policymakers, the food industry and individuals themselves. But, the battle against obesity involves us all.

Obesity is a multidimensional problem, encompassing biological, behavioural and environmental factors that require an interdisciplinary approach – among many, the cooperation of the food industry and other stakeholders, such as academics, community organisations, healthcare providers and government.

All of these groups recently converged at South Campus for Focus on Food & Health.

Professor Rush, who specialises in nutrition and the prevention of chronic disease, says the event achieved its aim of getting different factions face-to-face and talking.

Large multinationals, including Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Nestle, exhibited together with the Heart Foundation, Life Education Trust, Love Food Hate Waste and the AUT Food Network.

“Healthy eating has reached an impasse – the only way forward is by working together. We need to suspend judgement and focus on the future,” says Professor Rush.

For the food industry, the challenge lies in balancing the cost and complexity of manufacturing, with the need to make healthy options affordable and accessible to a mainstream audience.

New Zealand is a value-driven, price conscious market. And, healthy eating is still niche.

The most significant gains have been ‘change by stealth’ – fat, salt and sugar reduction, followed by the introduction of clean and wholesome ingredients.

“Big change starts small. We want to see small changes across the board, with everyone on board. But, it has be to a win-win – we don’t want to put people out of work,” says Professor Rush.

The food and beverage sector employs nearly one in five workers in New Zealand. It is a significant employer in South Auckland.

Professor Rush is looking to establish South Campus as neutral ground for industry, action groups and academics to come together, debate ideas and take action.

“We see it as a function of the University to be the critic and conscience of society, and to be of service to the local community,” she says.

Last updated: 09-Jun-2017 4.57pm

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