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The Government has lopped another limb off Labour's "bureaucratic" public health tree, ending state funding for the Obesity Action Coalition.

The coalition, created under Labour in 2003 to promote measures to reduce obesity, confirmed yesterday it would close within months of its state contract ending on June 30, unless it could find new sources of cash.

This follows National's permission to schools in February to resume regular sales of unhealthy foods and drinks, overturning a rule introduced last year by Labour. The new Government is also scrapping the roles of district health board staff who helped schools and early childhood centres implement the healthy food and drink guidelines underpinning the Labour rule.

While the child obesity rate is stable at around 9 per cent, the adult rate, at 26 per cent, continues to rise, although its rate of increase has slowed.

National in opposition accused Labour of erecting a costly and bureaucratic structure to deal with obesity and promised to shift money from it into school sport.

Health Minister Tony Ryall's office confirmed last night that an announcement would be made soon on a new physical activity scheme in schools.

He has told health boards that the money for it will come from existing schemes under the anti-obesity umbrella programme he inherited, Healthy Eating, Healthy Action.

The Health Ministry is the main source of income for the Obesity Action Coalition, which represents more than 70 organisations, including the National Heart Foundation and the Cancer Society.

The Health Ministry is its main source of income, but neither party would say how much it receives. It has only one employee, however, executive director Leigh Sturgiss, who previously ran the Smokefree Coalition.

"The ministry would seem to not find work around Healthy Eating, Healthy Action to be of priority," Ms Sturgiss said, adding that she had expected the demise of her group's state contract since National won office last year.

"We have benefited from the past nine years, having a very supportive government who wished to make some social change."

She predicted a spike in the obesity rate as National applied its philosophy of individual choice and wound back Labour's initiatives designed to create a healthier food environment.

Public health expert Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, of Auckland University, said the new trends in the obesity rate were positive but fragile.

"The problem is that we need to be nudging people in a healthier direction by making healthy choices easier, which inevitably requires strong government leadership as well as a whole range of group activities in the community."

Mr Ryall said unhealthy weight was an important issue for the Government and its new approaches would be announced "in due course. We've made it clear to the Ministry of Health that we want to move resources from administrative functions to the front-line."

The Green Party's health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said National's scrapping of anti-obesity schemes was irresponsible because if the problem was not controlled, the health system would be overwhelmed by a rapidly rising number of cases of type 2 diabetes.


The National-led Government is changing direction on anti-obesity policy.

Gone or going:

* Funding of Obesity Action Coalition.
* District health board staff who help schools with nutrition policy.
* Rule that only healthy food and drink be sold at schools.
* Labour's plans to control food industry recipes.

Staying or coming:

* Promotion of healthy food at schools.
* New physical activity scheme for schools.