Public Health Nutrition

Public policies

Nutrition policy in whose interests? A New Zealand case study

Gabrielle Jenkina1 c1, Louise Signala1 and George Thomsona1

a1 Department of Public Health, Health Promotion & Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington, PO Box 7343, Wellington South 6242, New Zealand


Objective In the context of the global obesity epidemic, national nutrition policies have come under scrutiny. The present paper examines whose interests – industry or public health – are served by these policies and why.

Design Using an exemplary case study of submissions to an inquiry into obesity, the research compared the positions of industry and public health groups with that taken by government. We assessed whether the interests were given equal consideration (a pluralist model of influence) or whether the interests of one group were favoured over the other (a neo-pluralist model).

Setting 2006 New Zealand Inquiry into Obesity.

Subjects Food and advertising industry and public health submitters.

Results The Government's position was largely aligned with industry interests in three of four policy domains: the national obesity strategy; food industry policy; and advertising and marketing policies. The exception to this was nutrition policy in schools, where the Government's position was aligned with public health interests. These findings support the neo-pluralist model of interest group influence.

Conclusions The dominance of the food industry in national nutrition policy needs to be addressed. It is in the interests of the public, industry and the state that government regulates the food and advertising industries and limits the involvement of industry in policy making. Failure to do so will be costly for individuals, in terms of poor health and earlier death, costly to governments in terms of the associated health costs, and costly to both the government and industry due to losses in human productivity.

(Received May 13 2011)

(Accepted October 24 2011)

(Online publication November 25 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email