The Bay of Plenty District Health Board has banned fizzy drink sales from its premises as dentists fear tooth decay among young people has reached epidemic levels.
The health board yesterday removed all sugar sweetened beverages from its buildings, including Tauranga and Whakatane hospitals, as part of a nationwide move to curb obesity. The move was a Ministry of Health instruction.
Thirty-one per cent of New Zealand adults are obese - the third-highest rate in the developed world - and 11 per cent of children, according to the 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey.
DHB employee health and safety service manager Ted Harper said the move was part of a 15-month phased programme that would result in an overhaul over the food and beverage on offer, including the removal of deep-fried food.
Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnball said the step was incredibly positive.
"By limiting access, they are drawing a line, a really important line, in the sand," she said.
"People like things that are easy.
"While everybody knows they are not great for you, if they are everywhere, everybody will drink them," she said.
The lead dentist at Lumino The Willows, Paul Blears, said the removal of sugary drinks from public places such as the hospital should have been done years ago. "We are not just talking about dental decay. We are talking about diabetes, obesity, etc."
Dr Blears said his practice sometimes dealt with children coming in with 10 to 12 cavities each, "and it's all down to the stuff they are drinking. It really is an epidemic that needs to be tackled."
Dr Blears said he supported the idea of taxing fizzy drinks to deter parents from buying them and was concerned low socio-economic families were among the worst affected.
"I remember seeing a kid who was 16.
"He needed something like $3000 worth of treatment which his mother couldn't afford.
"She was crying and he was out in the waiting room swigging back a Red Bull.
"These are the kids who are going to die before their parents," Dr Blears said.
Bethlehem Dentists Dr Estee Kriek said there had definitely been a shift among young people, especially towards drinking more fizzy drinks.
The Ministry of Health's Dr Fran McGrath said DHBs had an important leadership role in healthy food policies and there were no simple solutions to obesity.
Katherine Rich, Chief Executive of the NZ Food & Grocery Council said decisions about what food and drink hospitals sold was a matter for the Ministry of Health and DHBs.
"The Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman, and the Director-General, Chai Chuah, are demonstrating that they are thought leaders in finding innovative solutions to deal with the obesity issue."
By the numbers
* Western Bay of Plenty has 20 dental therapists and 17 dental assistants.
* There are five fixed-site clinics and six mobile units (three double, two single, one diagnostic).
* It also has Mataatua mobile unit shared across the Bay region.
- : Bay of Plenty District Health Board Good oral health.