Comment: The health of our own people and eating for health from the food we produce must be part our global food story, writes Julia Jones.

New Zealand has the highest per capita food production rate in the world; however, we continue to have a poor health rating.

According to Stats NZ, there are 183,000 children in New Zealand living in poverty and 1.3 million New Zealanders who are clinically obese – this is the second-highest rate in the OECD.

Forty per cent of us don't get the right nutrients in our diet, eating too much, too little or just not the right foods; however, we sell some of the most nutrient-dense health foods globally.

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How can we produce the best food in the world when 1 in 20 adults are living with heart disease? With some of the worst health outcomes in the world, how do we sell an authentic story of producing healthy food to the world?

Balancing the nutritional inequity in New Zealand and feeding our own 5 million first is where we need to start. The health of our own people and eating for health from the food we produce must be part our global food story.

Julia Jones. Photo / Duncan Brown
Julia Jones. Photo / Duncan Brown

A question of balance

This isn't a slight on the incredible value to New Zealand exporting our produce brings, it's more of a question around finding balance, finding a way to feed our own.

Nutrition is required to support focus and brain growth in children. With so many children living in poverty, we are putting their ability to learn and develop at risk and therefore potentially locking them into a cycle of poverty.

The cost of healing people is becoming unsustainable economically for governments worldwide. The New Zealand Government's spending on health was NZ$18.78 billion in 2019 (NZ$3821 per capita) and welfare spend of NZ$28.8 billion (NZ$ 6034 per capita).

Although nutrition will not be the answer to everything, poor nutrition can have long-term social and economic issues for countries.

We cannot always focus on the cost of making things happen, it is about forward thinking and contemplating the costs to cure, fix, remediate by preventing a less-positive future state.

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The question must be asked: if we feed our own properly, what is the opportunity and economic gain for society and future generations?

Wonderful national schemes

Fonterra's Milk in Schools is a wonderful example of Fonterra Dairy Farmers donating their product so that others benefit nutritionally. There are many existing community schemes and one fantastic national scheme focusing on red meat has just been released – Meat the Need.

How can we extend this further across other food groups? How could we include fibre into the equation? Imagine if we could get wool insulation, wool blankets and wool clothing to support healthier homes and families?

As we continue to profile, promote, and celebrate our products on the global stage, and as we develop New Zealand-centric stories to talk about our food, we need to be ensure that nutritional equality for our own is a core part of our global good story.

- Julia Jones is Head of Analytics at NZX and a former KPMG farm enterprise specialist.