No progress on reducing inequities from harmful products

Maori smoking prevalence, at 34%, will not reach the 2025 goal until 2044.

Health groups are demanding more policy action to reduce the glaring health inequities shown by the latest New Zealand Health Survey. The harms created by tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food continue to disproportionally burden Maori, Pacific and low-income communities, with no signs of improvement.

“Communities are tired of hearing about these terrible statistics year after year while successive governments offer platitudes instead of policies,” Professor Boyd Swinburn, Chairperson of the Health Coalition Aotearoa, said.

“If we aspire to be the best country in the world to be a child, then why are we so afraid to control the harmful products that are creating one third of our health problems? Children need healthy environments to grow up in and thrive.”

Overall, smoking is now down to 14% but at the current rate of slow decline, the Government’s Smokefree 2025 goal of less than 5% smokers will not be reached until 2036 for the general population. Maori smoking prevalence, at 34%, will not reach the 2025 goal until 2044. Pacific smoking prevalence has remained unchanged over 8 years at 24%. Implementing the comprehensive tobacco control strategies recommended by the World Health Organisation and the Health Coalition experts will accelerate progress towards the Smokefree 2025 goal.

One in five New Zealanders over 14 is classified as a hazardous drinker, a figure unchanged over the past 5 years. David (Rawiri) Ratu, who co-chairs the Health Coalition’s Alcohol Expert Panel, points out “These figures show hazardous drinking continues to be experienced more by Maori than non-Maori. The government has so far failed to protect Maori from the over-supply of alcohol from the numerous outlets in poorer neighbourhoods and the marketing of alcohol using sports celebrities who are heroes to rangatahi”.

Two in three adults are overweight or obese and this has not changed since 2011. For children, it also remains static with one in three being overweight or obese. The large disparities are also unchanged, exposing Maori, Pacific and low income New Zealanders to much greater risks of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Dr Lisa Te Morenga, who chairs the Health Coalition’s Food Policy Expert Panel, said “Efforts to reduce health inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand will be futile if serious policy action is not taken to support people to eat well. We urgently need healthy food policies in schools, limits on marketing of junk foods to children and their families, and health levies on the manufacturers of unhealthy food and drinks.”

The Health Coalition Aotearoa is an alliance of over 50 health groups with extensive expertise on how to improve the well-being of New Zealanders and they have identified the most effective solutions to these enormously costly health problems. They are calling for the Government to apply its ‘Covid-19 approach’ to the damage caused by tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food – an approach they describe as: look at the evidence, listen to the experts, and act boldly and decisively in the health interests of all New Zealanders, but especially for those communities which are suffering the most.

ENDS.