Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's newly released magic pill to cure childhood obesity is so sugar-coated even those fuelling the epidemic are falling over each other to praise him.
Fizzy drink manufacturer Coca-Cola rushed out a statement headed "Coke NZ welcomes obesity strategy", and the NZ Food and Grocery Council, relieved no doubt that the Government had rejected calls for a tax on unhealthy foods, praised Dr Coleman's "pragmatic approach".
The food council's chief executive, former National Party high flyer Katherine Rich, "commended" her old colleagues "for engaging with industry on the issue".
Launching his plan, Dr Coleman declared that "being overweight or obese is expected to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable risk to health in New Zealand within the next 12 months".
But instead of adopting the habit-altering taxes and widespread bans on where the product can be used that have successfully reduced smoking to a minority activity for social pariahs, Dr Coleman has decided to solve obesity by cosying up to the industries responsible for our expanding waistlines.
It's not as though Dr Coleman doesn't recognise the enemy. No 21 of his 22 initiatives to prevent and manage childhood obesity is a commitment by all district health boards "to remove Sugar Sweetened Beverages from their campuses" and have "healthy food policies in place" by January. This is good news, even if ambulance-at-the-bottom of-the-cliff planning. Waiting until the morbidly overweight turn up at the hospital door with diabetes, blocked arteries and knees that have collapsed from the unnatural loads they've been asked to support, before cutting off their supplies of sugar and fat, is rather missing the boat.
Surely it would make more sense to guide the young into healthy eating habits by banning these unhealthy products in school food shops. Unfortunately, the good Dr Coleman can't go there, because his government is ideologically opposed to such nanny-statism. In schools anyway, though confusingly, not in public hospitals.
In 2008, the Labour Government had introduced a guideline to school administrators stating that "where food and beverages are sold on school premises, ... make only healthy options available". It sounds very like the health board initiative Dr Coleman is now supporting. But in February 2009, in one of the first "ideological" acts of the new National Government, Education Minister Anne Tolley scrapped this guideline declaring, "school will no longer be required to act as food police". Her excuse was the guideline had caused "confusion" and that parents "should be aware of what 'good' and 'bad' food is".
Of course if "parents" were as diligent and informed as Mrs Tolley claimed, and did know the difference, then why is Dr Coleman now predicting that obesity is about to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable risk to health in New Zealand?
It's a shame Dr Coleman and his government colleagues didn't seek the advice of Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's chief science adviser. Sir Peter was co-chairman of the World Health Organisation's commission on ending childhood obesity which recently reported its recommendations.
Its report calls on governments and societies "to take urgent and meaningful action to address this issue", pointing to the "moral responsibility to act on behalf of the child to reduce the risk of obesity".
It says that along with providing nutrition information and guidelines for adults and children, governments had "to implement fiscal policies to reduce the consumption of unhealthy goods by imposing an effective tax on sugar-sweetened non-alcoholic beverages". It also called for strict controls on marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and for "eliminating the provision or sale of unhealthy foods ... and energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods in the school environment".
It further suggested "zoning around educational establishments to restrict the sale of unhealthy foods".
Dr Coleman's package admits to borrowing from the WHO report, and it does, in areas such as identifying fat pre-schoolers and encouraging more kids into sporting activity. But in tackling key causes of obesity, such as excess sugar intake, it's like winding the clock back 40 years to the bad old days of the tobacco epidemic, when all the tobacco lobby had to do was go boo at the politicians and they'd run a mile, free cigarettes falling from pockets as they ran.