If you look at recent news on sugary drinks and obesity in New Zealand, chances are you will come across the name Dr Gerhard Sundborn, or the advocacy Dr Sundborn undertakes at FIZZ (Fighting Sugar In Soft Drinks). Health Promotion Forum caught up with Dr Sundborn to find out more about his role and recent work.
Gerhard, thank you for your time. Could you tell our readers a little about your role and background please?
I have a few varied roles. I am a public health researcher/epidemiologist based at the University of Auckland. In 2013, I with a number of colleagues established FIZZ (which stands for Fighting Sugar in Soft-drinks) a Public Health Advocacy Group to address sugary drink consumption. More recently (since February) I have also started a part-time role for ARPHS as a Project and Public Health Analyst.
I have spent most of my time in Auckland and as a child and teenager lived in Wellington for 2 years and Rotorua for 3 years. My father is originally from Huntly and my Mother is from Vava’u, Tonga. Together with my wife Meliame we have three young children Sola 8y, Wayne 6y and Chloe 5y.
We are aware that you have a symposium coming up. What is it about and why is it important?
The symposium ‘Taxing Sugary Drinks’ on the 26th June in Auckland is the fourth that FIZZ has run. It will provide information and explain the science as to why sugar and sugary drinks are harmful, profile a large number of initiatives that have been created to address this issue both here in NZ and the USA, and finally we will also focus on the issue of taxing sugary drinks- looking at the most recent examples in Berkley (USA) and determine whether this is or should be an election issue leading up to our vote on 23rd September. To conclude the symposium we will have a political panel debate with representatives from all the major political parties with the only exception being National (Greens, Labour, The Māori Party, NZ First and The Opportunities Party will all be represented).
What are you hoping to achieve from the symposium?
We hope that the symposium will further raise awareness about the need to look seriously at reducing sugar and sugary drink intake to improve health.
We also hope that by providing a forum to profile the great work that many people and organisations are already doing in this area, it will encourage others to do the same and/or similar things.
We hope that this symposium will also promote wider public debate on a sugary drink tax being a key election issue.
How has society/ NZ/ communities responded to this issue and how has this changed over the years?
Since we started (back in 2013) the issue of sugar and sugary drinks is now becoming part of normal commentary when we think of the health debate. Our health sector and researchers in academic organisations I think have embraced this issue and driven a lot of great work. The general public too I think now see the need to address sugar and sugary drinks as a high priority. This increase in public awareness/support can be seen in the huge increase in support of a sugary drink tax that went from 44% in early 2014 to 86% in late 2016.
How does health promotion work alongside other approaches to improve wellbeing in this area?
Health promotion is an essential part of the work needed to address the problem of high sugar intake in NZ. It is important to work with schools, churches, sports clubs and all parts of our community to provide them with accurate and easily understood information about sugar in our diets and the massive amount of sugar in many drinks, the harm it causes but most importantly – possible solutions. There is some amazing health promotion work that is going on in this area where many large Māori and Pasifika festivals have gone sugary-drink free or water only such as Creekfest in Cannons Creek Porirua, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Events in Ōtaki and the Matatini event that was held in Hawkes Bay this year.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities to achieving your goals on this issue?
Industry present challenges to this work for obvious reasons in that they make money from the sale of sugar, however, we hope that industry will move to creating more low/no sugar products, and there are examples of this happening already.
Other challenges come from an argument that we shouldn’t limit people’s choice! However, we don’t want to limit choice but move the landscape so that healthier choices in the form of very low and no sugar products are the easier choice to make.
- made bars and restaurants Smokefree,
- banned tobacco’s promotional retail display,
- reduce allowances of duty-free tobacco
- raised tobacco’s excise tax,
- currently; introducing standardised packaging of tobacco and banning smoking in cars carrying children.
- Ms Osnat Lubrani, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, UNDP Pacific Office,
- Dr Viliami Puloka, HPF Pacific Leader and Otago University Research Fellow,
- Rt Hon Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand,
- Ms Leanne Eruera, HPF Business Manager and 2019 Conference Project Manager,
- Mr Sione Tu’itahi, HPF Executive Director and IUHPE Vice-President.
- Supporting organisations to gain a better understanding of what health promotion in Aotearoa is and what this looks like in practice
- Supporting organisations to have a shared understanding and common language of health promotion
- To have a lead advocacy role in health promotion and public health
- To promote Healthy public policy
- Encouraging organisations to grow their networks and/or partnerships
- To help organisations build awareness and skills to implement the Health Promotion Competencies
- Providing a set of practical tools and training around the HP competencies
First New Zealand Health Promotion bookPromoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand was conceptualised as a text that equally integrates Māori and Pākehā analysis; consistent with an approach that emphasises the Treaty of Waitangi partnership and indigenous rights. The editors have endeavoured to achieve this through collaboration between Māori and Pākehā editors, advisors and contributors. Contributors to the book include: Professor Sir Mason Durie, Professor John Raeburn, Associate Professor Papaarangi Reid, HPF’s Executive Director Sione Tu’itahi, Associate Professor Cindy Kiro, and HPF’s previous Executive Director Dr Alison Blaiklock. Health promotion in Aotearoa New Zealand has elements that, in combination, make for a unique approach. Ratima explains: “Key features are the unique contribution of Māori understandings and approaches; the application of a rights-based approach for example in relation to Treaty of Waitangi-based rights and indigenous rights; the strong equity focus; commitment to addressing determinants of health; an emphasis on strengthening community development and self-determination; and the use of local models, frameworks and tools.” There is very little text available that looks at health promotion in New Zealand – particularly as it relates to Māori. In fact Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand is rare internationally for its strong focus on indigenous health. Frequently we refer to overseas texts when teaching and supporting public health practice. Often these are not relevant to Māori, other New Zealanders or the New Zealand context. This has been of concern to health promotion academics and practitioners for some years. “This book has been written to address that gap,” says Mihi. It explores ways in which Māori, and other, perspectives have been melded with Western ideas to produce distinctly New Zealand approaches. In doing so it addresses the need for locally written material for use in teaching and practice, and provides direction for all those wanting to solve complex public health problems. The book highlights the “dire threat” to the health of the planet – and all of us who live on it – from factors such as climate change, obesity and new infectious diseases. It concludes that progressive health promotion is an approach that can counterbalance threats to health with practice, policy and advocacy for health, well-being and equity. HPF’s Executive Director Sione Tu’itahi was invited to speak a the book launch. He was also a contributor to the book.
“…The process by which the book was produced, both in contents and presentation, reflects a successful partnership that resonates with the letter and spirit of our nation’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi; an example worth emulating. It also places Matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) prominently, while it weaves together the knowledge of the West, the knowledge of the East, and Indigenous knowledge systems as a set of effective solutions for addressing our health challenges. Although the primary focus is on Aotearoa, the book brings in the experience and knowledge of Moana Nui a Kiwa and other regions, thus making the book a very valuable contribution to our collective effort at the global level to address planetary health. The recent launching of Promoting Health in Aoteroa New Zealand is very timely because: – there is an increasing awareness in all sectors, government, community, and the corporate sectors, that to be effective in addressing our socio-economic, cultural, physical, ecological and spiritual wellbeing, we have to be health promotional and preventative in our integrated approaches – there is also a marked increase in the number of courses and qualifications on health promotion and public health in universities, polytechs and wananga. This book is a ‘must have’ reading and resources for all learners and practioners – additionally, there is an increasing awareness in other sectors, such as social development and education, of the connectedness of the set of challenges that we all try to address, and therefore, the increasing need to learn from other sectors such as health and some of their comprehensive and effective tools and approaches such as health promotion I would like to congratulate the hard-working editors, Associate Professor Louise Signal, and Dr Mihi Ratima. Your perseverance, dedication, endless patience, and professionalism, have paid off. Well done!”Jo Lawrence-King 7 October 2015