Health researchers have recommended five actions which they say would dramatically improve the health of all New Zealanders beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an open letter published in the New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ), researchers (named at the bottom of this story) said that until now entrenched problems within the country's health system have seemed hopelessly lost causes.

Now, they say New Zealand has an opportunity to get ahead.

"The following interventions could be rapidly implemented and would have long-lasting benefits for the population, and would contribute to reducing inequities if paired with Māori-led capacity of development and leadership."


1. Sale and supply of liquor

Full implementation of the recommendations from the 2010 report of the Law Commission on the regulatory framework for the sale and supply of liquor.

This includes increased taxes, regulation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, and increased investment in treatment and support services.

2. Sugar tax

Introduction of a tax on sugary drinks in line with the NZ Dental Association Consensus Statement on Sugary Drinks, which aligns with advice from the WHO.

This comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late last year a sugar tax had already been publicly ruled out and was not being considered.

"We have to look at ways to reduce sugar content, first and foremost, and then we secondly have to make sure that consumers have good information," Ardern said at the time.

3. Restrict junk food marketing

Limitation of marketing of junk food to children and increased authority of local authorities to audit licensing of fast food premises. Also to reduce the availability of fast-food outlets as outlined in the New Zealand Medical Association 2014 policy briefing on tackling obesity.

4. Reduce pokies

A commitment to reducing pokies in the communities most affected by gambling-related harm, stringent regulation of the emerging online gambling industry, and the introduction of sustainable funding opportunities for communities to reduce the reliance on pokies revenue.

5. Supply reduction of tobacco

Introduction of supply reduction policies for tobacco to complement existing interventions, in order to reach the New Zealand Government's Smokefree 2025 goal.


*Emma Espiner, final year medical student, University of Auckland; Selah Hart, chief executive of Hāpai Te Hauora; Garth Poole, honorary associate professor and surgeon at Middlemore Hospital; Tamara Glyn Mullaney, senior lecturer at the University of Otago; consultant general and colorectal surgeon at Canterbury DHB; Su Mei Hoh, colorectal fellow at Auckland City Hospital. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website