Consultation for the proposal, which was released on Thursday, suggests banning all junk food advertisement online, as well as on television, until after 9pm due to children being more than a quarter of the audience.
University of Otago deputy head of Department of Medicine professor Rachael Taylor, who specialises in child obesity, said New Zealand should also consider adopting such a ban as it would have a wide-reaching impact.
“This is a 100 per cent population reach approach, it’s the most cost effective thing to help combat obesity.”
Other methods, such as education trucks and gardens in schools, depend on being present at every school, she said.
Taylor, who is also the director of the university’s Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, said all innovations to curb obesity may seem relatively small but put together they make a big difference.
“The bottom line is whatever we do to tackle obesity has to consist of a whole variety of approaches.
Child obesity is a problem in New Zealand and an online adverting ban is a much more full on and wider reaching approach than anything else currently being used, she said.
“It’s something I would like to see here.
“We know [online advertising] influences behaviour, we know it works because the otherwise food companies wouldn’t do it.”
Online advertisers are able to target susceptible people much easier and with more influence than television advertising, she said.
“It’s so much more powerful.”
Ministry of Health deputy director of public health Dr Harriette Carr said in New Zealand the Advertising Standards Authority has codes in place for marketing to children and for food.
“The Ministry of Health acknowledges that childhood obesity is a problem in New Zealand and appreciates the complexity of addressing the significant health losses associated with this issue in local communities.”
In 2015, the Ministry launched a Child Obesity Plan with 22 actions.
As many of these actions have now been implemented, or completed, the Ministry is reviewing its approach to obesity, she said.
“Our obesity work programme has a focus on creating more supportive food environments and to helping people to achieve a healthy weight through improved physical activity and nutrition.”
Some current actions include supporting schools to become water only and encourage healthy food and exercise as well as updating the food and nutrition guidelines for pregnancy and infants aged zero to two.
The ministry is also working with other government agencies to support healthy school environments, develop New Zealand’s approach to the World Health Organisation Global Action Plan on Physical Activity, implement a National Healthy Food and Drink Policy, review the Healthy Star Rating and review food labelling.
“In addition, the Food Industry Taskforce on Addressing Factors Contributing to Obesity provided a report to Government in December 2018, which is under consideration.”
The Times reported that the proposed online advertising restrictions in the UK had been welcomed by health campaigners but opposed by food companies, “which condemned the timing of the announcement while they were preoccupied with ‘battling to ensure the nation is fed’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.
An article in The Drum said further proposals include changing thresholds which allow foods to be advertised and placing time limits on junk food adverts.