HCA Prevention Brief 2023

Health experts call for health before profit

Addressing the social and health problems from tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food will mean taking on harmful industries to level the playing field of policy influence, says Health Coalition Aotearoa’s Co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn.

“We need to make it harder to lobby behind closed doors and increase investment in prevention to at least 5 per cent of the health budget,” said Prof Swinburn. “We urgently need to shine more sunlight on what’s going on behind the scenes.” 

Prof Swinburn made these comments following the recent release, ahead of the upcoming General Election, of the HCA’s Prevention Brief – evidence-based policy priorities needed urgently to address these harms. 

The Brief emphasises that families should be empowered to make decisions about their own wellbeing. This means creating healthy environments free from harmful substances and their marketing. It also means having equitable access to the determinants of good health across our whole lives.

According to the HCA tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food cause nearly one-third of all preventable loss in healthy life-years in Aotearoa, but policy actions and funding commitments to reduce their harm lag far behind other comparable countries. 

With no regulation of food and drink marketing to children, kids are exposed to an average of eight advertisements for unhealthy food and drink every hour during peak television-viewing hours. There is no protection from relentless targeting of ad algorithms while children are online. 

Low-income neighbourhoods are disproportionately swamped with outlets for fast food and alcohol. 

A recent study found this contributes to alcohol marketing being seen by Māori and Pacific children five times and three times more often than New Zealand European children. 

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Associate Professor Lisa Te Morenga said targeting of communities with high Māori and Pacific populations was perpetuating systemic inequity in health outcomes. 

Dr Morenga commended the huge progress that had been made to reduce harm from tobacco – with world-leading smoke-free regulations and the smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal. 

The excellent leadership shown on tobacco control and other prevention initiatives needed to be replicated for alcohol and junk food, Prof Te Morenga said.

Politicians, including Dr Ayesha Verrall (Labour Party), Dr Shane Reti (National Party) and Chloe Swarbrick (Green Party) will respond to the prevention brief at a political panel on prevention, hosted by Health Coalition Aotearoa, the Public Health Communications Centre, and the University of Otago on August 8.