By: Simon Collins

The Government’s former Chief Education Health and Nutrition Adviser has slammed a new anti-obesity programme in schools as “political window-dressing”.

Professor Grant Schofield, who was appointed to the role by the former National Government in 2017, has disclosed that he quit at the end of last year in frustration that the Government was not tackling head-on the poor diet and inactivity that are driving epidemic rates of diabetes, cancers and heart conditions.

“I’m disillusioned with where they have gone in government with health,” he said.

“It’s supposed to be ‘wellbeing’, but it’s not wellbeing. Taking your kid to take your filling out is not dental health, it’s dental sickness.”

The Budget has provided $10 million a year from next year and $15m a year from 2021-22 for “supporting schools and early learning settings to improve wellbeing through healthy eating and physical activity”.

Sports Minister Grant Robertson said the money would fund 15 more health promotion officers to promote healthy diet across the country’s 1946 primary schools, and 110 physical activity advisers to work with 300 primary schools next year and with 500 schools from 2021-22.

“They haven’t decided whether [the schools will be selected] on a decile basis or a regional basis,” he said.

The physical activity programme will be based on an existing Sport NZ pilot programme called Play.Sport, but with a wider brief.

“We felt it needed to be broader, it’s about general physical activity,” Robertson said.

But Schofield said the programme fell far short of what was needed.

“I just think the scale of the problem doesn’t match the investment,” he said.

“That’s why I quit that job, because it frustrates me. It’s just political window-dressing.”

Schofield said the Government should be tackling the root cause of the crisis in the supply of sugary food.

“You change the price point of sugary drinks for a start,” he said.

“And you fundamentally change where you spend the money in health to increase public health and health professionals that do this stuff for a living. Spending the money on palliative care isn’t going to make a better society.”

Professor Elaine Rush, who helped to develop Sport Waikato’s Project Energize to improve children’s nutrition and physical activity, said the new initiative would not tackle “food poverty”.

“It looks like a good thing, but it’s not going to nip the real problem in the bud,” she said.

She urged the Government to tax unhealthy foods and cut GST on healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, so that low-income families could afford to eat healthily.

Source: NZ Herald

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