07 October 2020

Preparing for the politics of public health

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Ainslie Ballinger, Network’s Account Manager and Registered Nutritionist / ainslie@nwkcom.co.nz

COVID-19 has exposed decades of disinvestment in New Zealand’s public health system. With systemic inequality now firmly in the spotlight and ‘health as wealth’ driving changes in consumer behaviour, we should now expect it to figure as an election issue.  

The FoodGroup’s Registered Nutritionist, Ainslie Ballinger, gives us a brief snapshot of what nutrition-related policies are on the table so far, and how businesses and organisations can prepare themselves for any and all political eventualities.   


  • Would not look to implement a sugar-sweetened beverage tax – reasons given include the negative association with the word ‘tax’ and that ‘sugar is in everything so why target one item’.  
  • Is in favour of working collaboratively with food industry to take action on factors contributing to obesity and other diet-related disease.  
  • Is committed to investing more in public health and would look to implement the recommendations from the Health and Disability System review including establishing a Public Health Agency. 
  • Would continue to roll out the free school meals programme and action on child poverty. 


  • Would not implement a sugar tax or sugar-sweetened beverage tax but has signalled that it is open to the idea and is watching closely the progress in the UK including research due for release. 
  • Would look to implement the Daily Mile (UK primary school physical activity programme where students run or walk a mile each day).  

The Greens 

  • Fully supportive of a sugar tax or sugar-sweetened beverage tax and using funds generated to increase health promotion activity.  
  • Health policies unlikely to be a bottom-line negotiating point for the Greens in any potential coalition agreement though; their focus instead would likely be on ‘big wins’ for the party on housing, tax reform and the environment.  

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. But no matter what the election result holds for these policy promises, the issues of obesity, food security, inequity and inequality will continue to loom large. Progress will demand collective impact, and so there are a number of questions food businesses and health advocacy organisations should be asking themselves to ensure they are ready to participate in the nutrition conversation and efforts in Aotearoa.    

Food businesses 

  • Do you have publicly available (and easily-accessible) information in your corporate nutrition policies and commitments?  
  • What’s your position on advertising and marketing of your products and/or services? 
  • How are you going to continue to communicate reformulation progress and the path ahead, and any labelling advances?  
  • Do you have a plan for rolling out the new Health Star Rating system (if relevant)?  
  • How are you going to get buy-in from internal stakeholders and communicate to your customers about all of the above? 

Health advocacy organisations 

  • Which stakeholder groups will you engage in forming new policy advocacy positions?  
  • How will you reach out beyond your established network to access new perspectives and subject-matter expertise? 
  • Have you developed robust communications strategies to engage the media, consumers and stakeholders in your policy advocacy?    
  • Have you thoroughly considered feasibility and unintended consequences of your policy positions by placing them under the lens of macro and micro-economics, behavioural insights and technology advances? 

Unlike those seeking our tick for October 17, we won’t promise to have all the answers, but here at Network’s FoodGroup we have the skills, experience, knowledge and network to help you prepare for what comes after.