New Zealand looks into ban on junk food advertising

WELLINGTON - As international pressure grows on the junk food industry, New Zealand's Labour government has become the latest to examine a ban on junk food advertisements aimed at children as part of a revamp of its Public Health Bill.

Public health director Colin Tukuitonga said officials hoped the proposal will encourage debate on how to regulate food advertising and access to unhealthy food and drinks. He also admitted there was little research on whether legislation was effective.

The proposal has drawn an angry response from New Zealand's fast-food industry, which says the effectiveness of such a ban is untested.

According to news website Stuff.co.nz, Liam Jeory, a spokesman for McDonald's, said a ban was a "simplistic notion that was untried, untested and unproven. People think it might work, but there is no proof it does".

Burger King spokesman Glenn Corbett said the fast-food chain was "strongly opposed" to a ban. The industry already followed its own code of practice relating to advertising, which was "sensible, realistic and responsible".

However, Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman DR Robyn Toomath said it was an area where government action was required. "Children are getting fatter faster than any other group," she said. "It's linked to the lifestyle. You have to look at the intensive marketing to children -- billions of dollars are being spent getting children into inappropriate food and drinks."

Fast-food consumption is rapidly becoming an issue in New Zealand. Health Ministry figures show that more than half of New Zealand adults are overweight and that obesity levels are rapidly increasing among adults and children. This is more prevalent among the indigenous Maori population, 20% of whom eat fatty foods five or more times a week, according to government figures. This figure rises to 23% among Pacific Island New Zealanders, while dropping to 6% of pakeha, or those of European descent.

According to the latest statistics, New Zealanders spent NZ$3.3bn (£1.1bn) on eating out and takeaways in the year to March 2002.

The food industry is coming under fire as the problem of being overweight or obese reaches epidemic proportions in Western countries, with many groups lobbying governments around the world to ban the advertising of junk food on children's television.

The International Obesity Taskforce, demanded at a summit in Copenhagen in September that the EU takes steps similar to those that have seen tobacco advertising banned across the EU.

However, here in the UK, Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, told a meeting of food manufacturers and advertisers last month that the government had no plans to ban food advertising during children's TV programming.

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