Obesity researchers have accused Health Minister Jonathan Coleman of "snubbing" a 10,000-strong petition calling for a sugary drink tax - and their suggestions to make one work.
The petition and policy brief was presented to Parliament's Health Select Committee last month by food and nutrition writer Niki Bezzant and members of the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Panel, established by a group of Auckland University researchers.
They argue a sugary drink tax - a measure backed by the World Health Organisation and taken by countries including the UK, France and Ireland - is the most effective way to tackle our soaring childhood obesity rates.
Their brief outlined the rationale for a tax, a list of options on how the sugary drink tax could be structured, an estimate on the amount of revenue it could generate, and suggestions on how revenue could be used to prevent childhood obesity and dental caries.
Obesity researcher Dr Gerhard Sundborn said the suggested tax of 50c per litre could raise between up to $100 million of new money each year to be spent on preventing childhood obesity.
The petition - organised by Bezzant and supported by the New Zealand Dental Association, the National Heart Foundation, Diabetes New Zealand and Dietitians New Zealand - called for Parliament to tax sugary drinks to reduce the burden of obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental caries in New Zealand.
Both documents were received by Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox, Green Party health spokesperson Julie Anne Genter and Opportunities Party deputy leader Geoff Simmons, but Coleman was unable to attend the presentation.
The Herald has been told the policy brief will be considered by the next Parliament.
However, in a scathing letter published in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, Bezzant, Sundborn and researchers Dr Simon Thornley and Dr Rob Beaglehole have hit out at the Government over what they argue is a lack of interest in the issue - even noting visits by three ministers to the Coca-Cola Amatil factory.
"It seems our current Government and Minister of Health value the interests of the sugary drink industry over those of 10,000 New Zealanders and the many voices from senior leaders from the health and community sectors that contributed to the tax policy brief," they wrote.
Sundborn cited a recent UMR Research poll that suggested majority support for a sugary drink tax that used revenue to fund childhood obesity prevention programmes.
Participants in the lowest annual income bracket, earning less than $50,000, were most supportive of a sugary drinks tax, with 69 per cent in support, compared to middle and high-income earners.
Responding to the letter, Coleman re-affirmed National's position hadn't changed, and that a sugary drink tax wasn't being actively considered.
"We are continuing to keep a watching brief on the emerging evidence and practice," Coleman said.
"Despite what advocates claim, there is no evidence that a sugar tax decreases obesity rates."
Coleman argued there was no single solution that would fix obesity.
The Government had introduced the Childhood Obesity Plan, with a range of interventions across Government, the private sector, communities, schools and families.
Made up of 22 initiatives, the plan involved targeted interventions for those who were obese, increased support for those at risk of becoming obese, and broad approaches to make healthier choices easier.
"We're now one of the few OECD countries to have a target and comprehensive plan on childhood obesity," Coleman said.
However, New Zealand adults and children had the third highest rate of being overweight or obese within the OECD.
One in nine children were now considered obese - including 15 per cent of Maori children and 30 per cent of Pacific Island kids - and a further 21 per cent were overweight.
The new petition followed a July scorecard, developed by Auckland University researchers, which rated New Zealand poorly on about half of the food policy indicators used to measure the policy changes they say are needed to tackle the problem.