The Government's top child health expert has backed calls for schools to go sugar-free.

Dr Pat Tuohy, chief child and youth health adviser for the Ministry of Health, said a water-only policy would be a "great first step" to tackling tooth decay and child obesity.

His comments come after the Ministry of Education yesterday encouraged schools to consider adopting healthy drinks policies. The ministry advised schools to offer only water or plain, reduced-fat milk.

The issue returned to the spotlight this month after Britain's Treasury chief George Osborne announced a 25p (53c) per litre tax on sugary drinks.


New Zealand's child obesity problem was highlighted by the latest Health Survey results, which showed one in nine Kiwi children were obese and a further two were overweight.

Obesity spanned all ethnicities, genders and levels of deprivation.

Dr Tuohy said obesity was particularly worrying in children because it was associated with a wide range of health issues.

"The World Health Organisation recommends schools create healthy food environments so introducing a water-only policy is a great first step for schools," he said.

"This announcement also supports the work we are doing with the Ministry of Education and other agencies to implement the childhood obesity plan."

One school working towards a water-only policy is John Paul College in Rotorua. Principal Patrick Walsh said the school had built two filtered water stations, which were proving popular.

"I've found at secondary school, many of the students are actually quite health-conscious."

The school still offers sports drinks and flavoured milk in its tuck shop, but Mr Walsh said he was not fooled by the perception these drinks were healthy.

"They may not have as much sugar in them as fizzy drinks do but they are not as healthy as they are marketed to be."

- Staff reporter