It's another election season and already the conversation has turned to tax cuts and the loosening of the rules for landlords. These fall into the "what's in it for me?" category of election promises; we can expect to see more.
It's natural that we're all susceptible to the lure of more money in our pockets. But I wish – as I do every election – we could elevate the debate to some of the issues that are less about self-interest and more about the greater good.
When it comes to health and food, there are some questions I think we should be asking all our politicians, incumbent or otherwise. They're not sexy things, but they're things that will ultimately affect us all. They're things we should be cranky, if not downright angry, about. And we shouldn't be satisfied with non-answers.
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Why don't we have a plan for the obesity epidemic?
I have been writing about this topic for years, through several governments. We still do not have a co-ordinated, multi-ministry plan to deal with a problem that affects most of us; is increasing; and is causing knock-on health effects that cost the country – that's all of us – billions of dollars a year. This is despite increasingly desperate calls from people at the coal-face like doctors and public health practitioners. Yes, it's a big and gnarly problem. But it won't get better with tweaks around the edges. It needs a proper, measurable plan with proper, ambitious goals.
Why are we letting the food industry control policy?
Related to the above. The only voice that seems to be being heard in the obesity conversation is that of the industry that holds a large part of the blame for it. The words "fox" and "henhouse" spring to mind. The industry produces reports spinning the line that they are "part of the solution" and a box is ticked. And still the hard calls are not being made on simple measures health experts are crying out for: proper controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids; a tax on sugary drinks; incentives for healthy foods; better food labelling rules. They're all things for which there's good evidence, and that most Kiwis support. It's mystifying why none of them has happened.
Why are one in five kids living in food poverty?
It's incredibly sad that one in five of our children is not getting the basic nutrition they need to grow, learn and thrive. Poverty and inequality are being worked on, I know. But the whole system needs to change to move those unacceptable numbers.
Why don't we don't know what Kiwis are eating?
Perhaps one of the few things the food industry and health experts agree on is that we really have very little idea of what and how Kiwis are eating right now. The last time we did a proper national nutrition survey was over a decade ago; a repeat survey has been on hold ever since. Why? We can't make meaningful change if we don't know where we're at.