Health officials worried about an obesity epidemic want fast-food advertising dropped from public property, including bus shelters, and are questioning fast-food and soft-drink sponsorship of public events.

They have also raised concerns over the lack of political power to stop fast-food restaurants being built near schools and in poor areas.

The moves by the Auckland District Health Board are a return to the healthy-eating principles which drove the national ban on pies in school tuck shops.

The ban was among the last moves of the outgoing Labour Government in 2008. It lasted eight months, then was overturned by the National Government.


And they mirror moves in New York, where mayor Michael Bloomberg has upset the fast-food industry by banning trans-fats and super-size soft drinks.

Obesity in Auckland poses a challenge for health workers. Thirty-five per cent of Year 9 students in the Auckland District Health Board area are classified overweight and another 35 per cent are obese.

Proposals are at an early stage, and the regional health service is seeking support from the Auckland and Waitemata district health boards. It wants a healthy food environment Policy to focus on the benefits of better nutrition instead of negative effects of obesity.

The policy would also create a partnership with Auckland Council to "improve local food environments and minimise marketing of unhealthy food" while targeting schools through existing health programmes.

Auckland health board clinical director Robyn Toomath said the over-turning of the tuck shop rules marked the beginning of a struggle to change behaviour through Parliament.

"I've spent a lot of time trying to persuade central government to take responsibility for these things. At the moment, that's not happening. So either we give up and say nothing can be done, or do you say, 'Hang on, is there another level where we can influence the environment?', and that's the tier we're talking about now."

She said her main aim was to drive discussion between the health board, council and schools about nutrition.

Dr Toomath said advertising was a major environmental factor which could be changed. The paper to the board's public health committee described a "cityscape saturated in advertising" for high-calorie, low-nutrient food and sugary drinks.


"Obesity is a genetically, biologic-ally based state. If you inherit genes that make you a food seeker, and you put that person in an environment where food is being promoted and it's 24/7 and it's cheap and palatable, that person will respond to that stimulus."

The paper said: "The current lack of restriction on new fast-food outlets near schools, parks and low socio-economic areas is also a concern."

Dr Toomath: "I don't have a bone to pick with the fast-food industry. They're a business, they have shareholders ... and they're clever at what they do. The people I do have a bone to pick with are the regulators who've just taken their hand off and said 'Go for it, do what you like'."

She said reducing the chance to buy types of food was the initial step but moves on sponsorship could follow. Asked about Auckland City Hospital's Ronald McDonald House, she said sponsorship was powerful and its issues difficult.

"We've reached that purist approach with tobacco, completely hardline. There's no way in the world we would have a Rothman's Centre for Kids in Hospital. You start off saying we won't promote the sale of goods, then the next step is [not allowing] sponsorship of these companies."

A McDonald's spokesman said the company worked with the Government on marketing, nutrition and store location.