In the news: the NEEDN’T food list

Here's our take on the NEEDN'T food list, released by University of Otago researchers.

The NEEDN'T food list has just been released

The NEEDN'T food list has been released by University of Otago researchers (view on the NZ Herald website). They developed it to help people who are obese identify foods that either shouldn’t be eaten, swapped for healthier options, or only eaten occasionally as a treat. 

What we think

The authors say that simply avoiding the foods in the list isn’t likely to be effective on its own, and we’d agree with that.  The list serves as a good reminder that some foods need to be eaten in smaller amounts and less often.  It might also help people identify some small changes they can start making.  But it’s really important to put this in context of people’s whole eating patterns.  Just cutting out a few foods doesn’t mean people are eating healthily; conversely, eating some of these foods in appropriate amounts doesn’t necessarily mean people are eating unhealthily. 

Looking at the bigger picture, the increasing rates of obesity can’t be fixed just by telling people to eat better.  There are very strong influences on the choices people make – less healthy food is often more easily available, convenient, cheaper, more heavily promoted and in big portions.  Until we start to balance those influences out we’re facing a difficult battle.  It’s not about denying anyone choices in what they eat, but it’s about balancing it out so that the scale isn’t tipped so heavily in favour of choosing less healthy foods.   

We’re now saturated with food – it’s available everywhere and is heavily promoted.  There are something like 30,000 products available in supermarkets.  That means a lot of 'choices' people have to make to eat healthily, and requires more willpower than most people have.  We need to create a food environment that makes the healthy choice easier.    

A few of the things we are doing about it:

  • Advocating for legislation to prevent the advertising of unhealthy food to children
  • Advocating for a smart card (discount card) to make healthy food more affordable for low income families
  • Working with schools and ECEs to create healthy food environments
  • Working with, encouraging and supporting food industry to reformulate foods to make them healthier
  • Advocating to local authorities to increase opportunities for walking, cycling and physically active lifestyles

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